The unofficial Tibetan representative of the Dalai Lama was taken into custody on March 7 by Nepalese police in a climate of increasing tension in Nepal as the 51st anniversary of Tibetís National Uprising Day on March 10 approaches. Nepalese police are being deployed across the Kathmandu Valley in an attempt to prevent any large gatherings or vigils by Tibetans as a show of compliance with Chinese government warnings against Nepal allowing its territory to be used for any alleged anti-China activities.

The border crossing between Tibet and Nepal at the Friendship Bridge has been effectively closed in the lead-up to the anniversary, according to sources in Nepal. Flights to Lhasa were grounded on the tarmac at Kathmandu airport from Friday (March 5). Nepalese travel agents have warned that tourists may not be able to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region from Kathmandu until several days after March 10.

Over the past few weeks there have been numerous police raids on houses and hotels in the area around the Tibetan stupa, Boudhanath, a major pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists. These raids reflect an approach believed to be sanctioned by the Nepal government of harassment and extortion, which is contributing to a sense of fear and insecurity among long-staying Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The risks are even higher for new arrivals from Tibet ñ with two senior police officers referring to threats of deportation.

The temporary detention yesterday of Thrinley Gyatso, who serves unofficially as the representative of the Dalai Lama in Nepal and who is a senior member of the Tibetan community in Kathmandu, is believed to be a measure to intimidate the Tibetan community and prevent protests in Nepal against Chinese rule in Tibet. Thrinley Gyatso was released on the same day after several hours of questioning and verbal intimidation.

A demonstration in Lhasa on March 10, 2008 sparked a wave of protests that spread across Tibet, and resulted in an often brutal Chinese police crackdown and enhanced security presence in many Tibetan areas. In 2008, the Tibetan community in Kathmandu demonstrated its solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet by protesting repeatedly in front of the Chinese Embassy, at times provoking brutal responses by Nepal police and resulting in numerous arrests.

The 2008 protests in Tibet and Nepal coincided with Chinese government preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which included carrying the Olympic torch to the summit of Mount Everest (Chomolungma in Tibetan) on the Tibet-Nepal border. Since that time, it has become a priority of the Chinese government to stop any demonstration of dissent by Tibetans, however peaceful, in Nepal. Space for Tibetans within Nepalís civil society is constricting due to the Chinese governmentís focus on Tibetan issues in its relations with the Nepalese government, and shifting internal politics in Nepal. (ICT report, An uncertain welcome: how China’s influence impacts Tibetans in Nepal)

One senior Nepalese police officer was quoted yesterday as saying: “We wont spare any pro-Tibetan if found guilty of provoking anger. They will be immediately arrested and handed over to the Department of Immigration for deportation.” (Deputy Superintendent of Police Pradhumna Karki, quoted in the Himalayan Times today, March 8). The Himalayan Times also quoted Deputy Inspector General of Nepal Police as saying: “We will take stern action against the Tibetans if they dare to stage anti-China demonstrations [this week].” (“Security beefed up for 51st Tibetan uprising anniversary,” March 8, 2010.)

The Nepalese government has adopted a hard line against expressions of Tibetan identity in Nepal, despite strong cultural and religious ties among the Himalayan peoples that have existed for centuries. Long-staying Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu and in settlements close to the Tibet-Nepal border are increasingly fearful as the Nepalese government relinquishes its historic and sovereign interests in response to incentivized political pressure from Beijing and its Nepalese sympathizers.

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President of Advocacy of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “These disturbing developments deserve an immediate response by the international community. Nepalís political leadership is betting that the internal benefits of assuaging China in the cause of oppressing Tibetans will be greater than the costs of abandoning principles rooted in the law and grounded in historic ties between the Himalayan peoples. While long-staying and transiting Tibetan refugees bear the brunt of this approach, bending to China on fundamental freedoms and the rule of law presents a real risk to the Nepalese people and their democratic institutions.”

Over the past two years, ICT has documented the following evidence of Nepalís shift towards China on Tibetan issues:

  • A change in the use of language by Nepalese authorities to describe the Tibetan refugee flow through their country, suggesting a ëlaw and orderí approach rather than the humanitarian approach that had characterized Nepalís treatment of Tibetans over the last decades.
  • Continuing harassment and extortion of long-staying Tibetan refugees in Nepal, contributing to a widespread sense of fear and insecurity.
  • Cancellation of peaceful expressions of Tibetan identity, such as the celebration of the Dalai Lamaís birthday.
    Pre-emptive arrests of Tibetans, ID checks and house searches.
  • Large-scale police deployment in Tibetan communities.
  • The harassment of Nepalese journalists for attempting to report on police actions in Tibetan communities, and a plethora of hostile articles in the Nepalese media alleging ëFree Tibetí conspiracies.
  • A growing presence of organizations sympathetic to the Chinese government position, both secular and religious, some popularly assumed to have links with the Chinese Embassy.
  • The resistance of the Nepalese government to provide durable solutions for certain long-staying Tibetan refugees in Nepal, either by regularizing their legal status or allowing their resettlement to the United States through a refugees admission program proposed by the U.S. Government beginning in 2005.
  • A pattern of hostile coverage in the Nepalese media of the Tibetan community and their supporters.