Fourteen Tibetans are still in custody after being detained in the Boudha area of Kathmandu by Nepalese police on Tuesday (June 28). The Tibetans were not carrying out any protests, but were playing cards and mahjong (a Chinese tile game). A celebration of the Karmapa’s birthday on Sunday (June 26) was disrupted by Nepalese police, with observers reporting hundreds of police in riot gear being deployed in every corner of the Boudha Stupa area.

The latest detentions and police presence at a Tibetan celebration follows the detention of 12 Tibetans who were rounded up on June 21 during a candlelight vigil by Kathmandu’s Tibetan community. The vigil was held in honor of the Dalai Lama’s upcoming birthday and to express solidarity with Tibetan demonstrators in Kardze (ICT report, Dozens of Tibetans imprisoned in new wave of Kardze demonstrations: protest in Lhasa by Dargye monk – 27 June 2011). The detentions are a further indication of the influence of the Chinese authorities on the Nepalese government and the vulnerability of Tibetans living in Nepal (ICT report, Dangerous Crossing: 2010 Update – 20 June 2011).

Nepalese police detained 39 Tibetans from three different areas in the Boudha neighborhood of Kathmandu on June 28 as the Tibetans played mahjong and cards, accusing them of gambling, according to Tibetans in Kathmandu. The same source reported that seven of the Tibetans were released by 8pm the same evening, including a 78 year-old Tibetan man who had been detained. ICT monitors have determined that 47 Tibetans, including 12 who were detained on June 21, are currently in police custody.

On Sunday (June 26) Kathmandu authorities restricted a celebration of the Karmapa’s (head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism) 27th birthday by Nepal’s Himalayan communities (Tibetan, Sherpa and Tamang). The organizers told ICT that they were instructed by police to limit the celebration to within the small courtyard of Gamsang monastery (located in Kathmandu’s Boudha neighborhood), and not to parade the Karmapa’s photo, the Dalai Lama’s photo, the Tibetan national flag or banners around the Boudha Stupa, and not to sing the Tibetan national anthem. Hundreds of police in riot gear were then deployed in the neighborhoods of Boudha, Swayambhu and Jawalakhel, where a large number of Tibetans reside. Police stopped buses transporting monks from the Ngedon Wosal Ling and Benchen monasteries in Swoyambhu, and nuns from Trango nunnery, on their way to join the celebration, and told them they were not allowed to proceed. An observer with the Human Rights Organization of Nepal(HURON) told ICT that “About 200 monks and nuns were stopped by police. There was an incident when police tried to confiscate Buddhist flags and the Karma Kagyu school flag from them, and a few monks were injured. After the incident, some monks and nuns protested in Swayambhu, carrying banners which police later confiscated.”

“All but a few of the monks and nuns stopped by police were Nepalis from the Himalayan region,” HURON monitor Tenzin Namdag told ICT. “They were not Tibetan refugees and they did not have any plans to protest. They were not carrying Dalai Lama photos or Tibetan national flags with them, and they felt their right to religious freedom was being denied.” A 27 year old nun from Thugche Choeling nunnery in Swayambhu told ICT: “They made it impossible for us to go to Boudha to join the Karmapa birthday celebration, as we have done since the Karmapa escaped from Tibet at the end of 1999. The police arrived at our nunnery at 6 am. There were about 30 police officers at the gate with riot gear who kept us under very close watch. It looked very scary. Later, the chief police officer told us that we had to remain inside and not go to Boudha to celebrate.”

Over 50 police personnel in riot gear were stationed at Gamsang monastery in Boudha in case photos of the Dalai Lama, or Tibetan flags were displayed. While the Tibetan cultural show and birthday celebration itself proceeded without police interference, three Nepalese intelligence personnel entered the monastery hall where prayers were being held and questioned organizers. The second secretary of the Himalayan Buddhist Association, Jigdral Sherpa (a monk from Kopan monastery), spoke during the function. He said: “Nepal is lord Buddha’s birth place. If we are not allowed to celebrate our Lama’s birthday here, that is a serious abuse of religious freedom. Nepal is a democratic country and open society. I would urge the Nepal government and leaders to treat ethnic groups equally and respect our religious freedom, and that such things will not happen again in the future.”

The Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is popular among Himalayan Buddhists in Nepal because of long-standing historical links. Celebrations of the Karmapa’s birthday have become increasingly popular since the Karmapa escaped Tsurphu monastery in Tibet in December of 1999, evading Chinese authorities and escaping into exile. Over a thousand Tibetan refugees and Nepalese Buddhists took part in the celebration of the Karmapa’s birhday on Sunday. It is the first time since 2000 that officials interfered with this celebration.