The 13 Tibetans were released on March 6, 2012

The 13 Tibetans were released on March 6, 2012, after posting NRs. 350,000 bail. (RFA)

UPDATED March 6, 2012: The 13 Tibetans (11 males and two females) have been released from detention following a total payment of NRs. 350,000 (US $4,391) bail.

Despite representation from several senior Nepalese lawyers earlier in the week, a Nepal Supreme Court judge rejected the Tibetans’ petition for habeas corpus (a legal writ through which a prisoner can be released for unlawful detention on the basis of insufficient cause or evidence). According to an article that appeared in the Nepali Times on March 6, arguments made by lawyers for the Tibetans included the absence of “credible evidence of violence or obstruction to public life,” and that the detention “lacked credibility since it did not follow due judicial process.”

The same article noted that Tibetans are an easy target for the abuse of legal power because they lack legal status in Nepal, a situation made evident when the judge cited the Tibetans’ different legal identity when he refused to acknowledge a precedent set by a 2006 case because it involved a Nepalese citizen.

Thirteen Tibetans who staged a peaceful protest outside the United Nations office in Kathmandu, Nepal, a week ago remain in detention. The February 24 demonstration was swiftly broken up by Nepalese police. Video footage can be viewed here. The demonstrators, including two young Tibetan women, unfurled Tibetan flags and held banners calling for UN intervention against the Chinese crackdown in Tibet. They repeatedly called out for “Justice!” in Tibet.

Nepalese police confiscated the flags and banners and moved back the demonstrators from the UN gates, encircling the demonstrators. No one from the UN office came out of the compound to address the demonstrators or otherwise show themselves. The footage depicts the Tibetans being forcibly removed from the scene by the police and taken away in a police van. The case of the 13 detainees has been raised with Nepal’s Supreme Court amidst concerns about the legal basis for holding the Tibetans.

The demonstration took place in the context of a tense atmosphere for Tibetans in Nepal, which is subject to strong Chinese influence, during Tibetan New Year (Losar) and in the buildup to the March 10 commemoration of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile.

Demonstrations by Tibetans in Nepal were frequent in 2008 and 2009 when a wave of protests swept across Tibet, and they were often broken up with excessive force by Nepalese police. Such protests have been less common since then, with Tibetans adopting alternative, also peaceful, strategies to express themselves. Even so, actions such as candlelight vigils have been shut down by Nepal authorities as ‘anti-China.’

A June 24, 2011 report in the Himalayan Times about the detention of 12 Tibetans at the time quoted Nepalese Deputy Superintendent of Police Shyam Lal Gyawali as saying that “the police had to intervene after the Tibetan exiles sporting headbands and t-shirts reading ‘Free Tibet’ tried to stage an ‘anti-China’ protest.” Tibetan observers told ICT that no ‘anti-China’ protest took place, but only a vigil, peaceful march and prayers.

The previous year, on July 26, 2010, the first Nepal-China Border Security and Law Enforcement Talks concluded with the two neighboring countries agreeing to establish high-level intelligence sharing capabilities targeting ‘anti-China’ activities and border management, in addition to a pledge from Beijing for an annual aid package to enhance Nepal’s handling of ‘anti-China’ activities. Such a security and information sharing agreement has significant implications for Tibetan refugees fleeing through Nepalese territory on their way to India, and for the safety of Nepal’s long-staying Tibetan population, many of whom lack legal status in Nepal.

The current situation for Tibetans in Nepal is detailed in ICT’s report, Dangerous Crossing: Conditions Impacting the Flight of Tibetan Refugees – June 20, 2011.