Thinlay Lama

Thinlay Lama, the volunteer coordinator at the TRWO, shortly after being released by Kathmandu police. Thinlay Lama was detained and interrogated by Kathmandu police after the TRWO held a press conference concerning Tibetan refugees on August 5th.

The head of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in Nepal, Thinlay Lama, was detained for eight hours today in Kathmandu after organizing and speaking at a press conference about the situation of Tibetans in Nepal and specifically refuting charges in the Nepal press that his office was complicit in a recent case of two Tibetans attempting to leave Nepal with false passports. Thinlay Lama was released after signing a commitment to inform local authorities before organizing any formal program in the future and agreeing to officially register the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office. Two Tibetan reporters who had attended the press conference were also questioned briefly by police, although they were not taken into custody.

The temporary detention took place in an atmosphere of continued insecurity for Tibetans due to the Chinese government’s influence on the Nepalese authorities and its insistence that no “anti-China” activities be allowed in Nepal.

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Thinlay Lama’s comments at the press conference were responsible and measured, and an attempt to set the record straight on false allegations against his office that have appeared in the Nepalese media. He made sensible recommendations to the Nepalese government about addressing real issues in the Tibetan community that are fully consistent with those repeatedly made by foreign embassies and international organizations in Kathmandu. Once again, the Nepal authorities have departed from reasonable behavior to satisfy Chinese-driven concerns about Tibetans in Nepal.”

Thinlay Lama is the first Nepalese to represent Dharamsala’s interests in Nepal, acting as the de facto representative of the Dalai Lama. In January 2005, King Gyanendra closed the Office of the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Kathmandu and the Tibetan Welfare Office to curry favor in Beijing ahead of his dismissing Nepal’s democratic government and seizing power. Subsequent efforts backed by western embassies and the UNHCR to formally reopen the Tibetan Welfare Office have been unsuccessful. Thinlay Lama’s position is described as volunteer coordinator.

Thinlay Lama returned to his office in the Lazimpat area of Kathmandu at 12:30 pm Nepalese time following the press conference at the Hotel Ambassador. He was detained from there together with his aide Jampa Dhundup by six police officers and taken to Hanuman Dolkar police station. The Nepalese police told him he had been taken there for questioning. During his eight hours in custody, Thinlay Lama was held in a private room with his Nepalese lawyer and a representative from the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON). A HURON representative told ICT that they were told that Thinlay Lama should not have organized the press meeting while the police were investigating the case of fake passports and that the detention was on the orders of the Kathmandu Chief District Officer. Thinlay Lama was interviewed by the Superintendent of Police twice during the day before his release at around 8.00 pm Nepalese time.

Two Nepalese police officers arrived at the Hotel Ambassador shortly after today’s press conference looking for Thinlay Lama, and questioned two Tibetan reporters who were still at the hotel. One of the Tibetan reporters, who works for Voice of America, overheard one of the police officers on his cellphone reporting back to his office, asking if they should arrest the two reporters as well, and reading out the statement made by Thinlay Lama at the conference to police officers at their headquarters.

During the mediation process that led to his release, Thinlay Lama had to make two commitments to the Deputy Police Superintendent. He had to make a written agreement that he will contact and coordinate with the local administration about any formal programs that his office organizes. He also had to agree verbally that he will officially register his office. The implications of this agreement are unclear, as the Tibetan community has unsuccessfully sought to register the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office on numerous occasions since its closure together with the Dalai Lama’s office in 2005. In October 2005, the Nepal Home Ministry registered the Bhota Welfare Society, headed by a Nepalese citizen of Tibetan origin, but the organization was de-registered on October 24, 2006, by instruction of the Nepal Foreign Ministry. Since the closure of the offices, several foreign embassies in Kathmandu have urged Nepal to register an alternative Tibetan office to partner with the UNHCR in providing urgent humanitarian assistance to the Tibetan refugees transiting through Nepal every year, and to provide social services to the long-staying Tibetan refugee community.

During the press conference this morning, primarily attended by Nepalese and Tibetan media, 55-year old Thinlay Lama said that he had called the meeting in order to “clarify some issues and also to tell the media world about the problems faced by Tibetan refugees”. His statement, made in Nepalese, is translated in full into English below. Thinlay Lama refuted allegations made in the Nepalese media about his office issuing fake passports to two Tibetans, saying that his office was not involved. He talked about the historic and cultural ties between Tibetans and Nepalese, and called upon the Nepalese Government “to draft necessary law(s) to address the problems faced by the Tibetan refugees in Nepal for inclusion in the new constitution of Nepal.”

Thinlay Lama also said he had asked Nepal’s government to resume issuing the identity cards to Tibetans providing them legal status and the right to stay in Nepal, to address the issues of all refugees uniformly in the new constitution, and to allow the Tibetan diaspora to run businesses and obtain higher education. Thinlay Lama reiterated that his office was a “non-political, non-profit social organization” which is “not against any individual, society or any country”. He also spoke about the relationship between Nepal and Tibet prior to the 1950s as between two “sovereign nations”. His full statement is included below in English.

Statement by Thinlay Lama made at a press conference at Hotel Ambassador, Kathmandu, August 5, 2011

Thinlay Lama

Thinlay Lama (middle), the volunteer coordinator at the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office (TRWO), addressing a press conference organized by the TRWO on Tibetan refugees on August 5, 2011 in Kathmandu.

As we know, in the last few days we have seen reports in the media about Tibetans who sought refuge in Nepal. In order to clarify some issues and also to tell the media world about the problems faced by the Tibetan refugees, I have invited you for this conference.

We all know very well that historically Nepal and Tibet, which is currently ruled by China, enjoyed a close relation economically, diplomatically and culturally from the ancient period. As two sovereign nations in history, Nepal and Tibet had signed numerous agreements. During the modern period, three major Nepal – Tibet treaties were signed in 1789, 1792 and 1856, which is a fact of history. In fact the marriage of Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti of Patan to King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet sealed our relationship further, not only as neighbor, but our ‘Samdi’ marriage relationship.

After China and India signed the Panchsheel Treaty in 1954, Nepal not only recognized Tibet as an autonomous region of China, but also abrogated all the privileges and rights enjoyed by Nepal in Tibet. These facts are engraved in history and nobody can change the according to their will.

Based on the close historical relationship, Tibetans who had to leave their country were given political refuge by the then government of Nepal, which allowed them to settle here. In spite of our country being landlocked and with limited resources, we supported the Tibetan refugees and this gesture is internationally appreciated even today. During this critical time in the history of our nation and for half a century since, we provided the exile community with emotional support for which they are always grateful to the government and people of Nepal.

After coming into exile, the Tibetan Welfare Office was established as a non-political, non-profit social organization, actively working to help the Tibetan refugees’ voices be heard by the government of Nepal. The Tibetan Welfare Office’s aim was not against any individual, society, or any country. It only aimed to be a coordinator between the Tibetan refugees and Nepal government and to acquaint the Tibetan refugees with the law of the land and also provide various protections guaranteed by the international organizations for refugees.

The Nepal government used to issue refugee identity cards (RC) to refugees, but this practice was discontinued and the last RC was issued in 1998. Children who have since become adults and would now be eligible, as well as many children who were born and brought up in Nepal are now unable get an RC, with the result being that these people have no means to become part of Nepalese society and cannot get driver’s licenses, travel documents and all other basic documentation of one’s livelihood. Therefore, we appeal to the Nepal government to continue granting RC’s to the genuine refugees.

There is a large number of Tibetans born and brought up in Nepal. An RC helps them to stay in Nepal legally. Beyond that, they are not allowed to engage in legal business, seek higher education opportunities, or any other legal rights. It is a fact that such rules not only stop them from making any economic and social contributions to the community and the country, but they are a waste of precious human resources.

We appeal to the Nepal government to allow RC holders to do business, open industries, give opportunities for employment and allow them to establish non-political, non-profit social organizations. We request that the government drafts the necessary law addressing the problems faced by Tibetan refugees for inclusion in the new constitution of Nepal.

For the last several days the Nepalese national media have reported that Tibetans have acquired fake Nepalese passports and that the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office issued birth certificates signed by Trinlay Gyatso to Tenzing (15 yrs) and Chering Lhamu (12 yrs) vide certificate number OT/KM/11/7100 on Feb 8, 2011. Newspapers also reported that the Tibetan Refugee Office in Boudha also gave necessary recommendation letters. The two persons were arrested at Tribhuvan International Airport while trying to travel abroad.

It is a fact that normally this office issues birth certificates, marriage certificates and necessary recommendation letters to bona fide Tibetan refugees of Nepal after ascertaining facts from the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center and all other concerned offices.

Accordingly, this office enquired about the two persons in question with the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center, the Refugee Office at Boudha and found no record of such certificates being issued. We conducted a further inquiry with the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and found no record. Therefore, we want to inform you that the documents produced by them are fake and Mr. Tenzing and Miss Chering Lhamu are not Tibetan refugees.

We are serious and alert on the issue of non-Tibetan refugees obtaining documents meant for the Tibetan refugees. This is the only official organization that looks after the welfare of the Tibetan refugees in Nepal and we request all those concerned to inform us in the future if anybody is making such fake documents.

This episode has surely harmed the image of Tibetans who are living with dignity in Nepal and scattered all over the world living their lives peacefully and preserving their religion and culture. Hence, we strongly wish to state that the current media reporting is baseless and we request all Nepalese media to tell the truth and only the truth.

We are always ready to cooperate with all those concerned with the welfare of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. We expect the same cooperation from the government of Nepal, international organizations, human rights groups, intellectuals and all communities of people in Nepal.

Thank you,
Thinlay Lama, Chief Coordinator