BEIJING — Seven teenage Tibetan boys have been detained in northwest China after graffiti calling for the Dalai Lama's return was found scribbled on walls, a human rights watchdog said on Thursday.
The Chinese government has been obsessed with maintaining stability in Tibet and four Chinese provinces with Tibetan populations since the Buddhist spiritual leader fled his mountainous homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Communist rule.
China on Thursday again branded the Dalai Lama a "splittist".
"We can see that he is not purely a religious figure, he is a political exile involved in activities aimed at splitting the motherland," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference.
Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of the boys, aged between 14 and 15, who were detained in Gannan prefecture in Gansu province around Sept. 7, a day after graffiti appeared on the walls of the village police station and school.
One detainee, aged 14, is reported to have been badly beaten during or after the arrest and is said to have been bleeding badly when seen by relatives, Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement. His identity was not known.
The boys were moved to Xiahe (Labrang) county on Sept. 10 and their current whereabouts were unknown, the group said. All seven come from nomad families and were studying at a secondary school in Amchok Bora village.
A county government official, reached by telephone, denied knowledge of the detentions.
Police Refuse to allow beaten boy to go to hospital
Human Rights Watch said police had refused to allow relatives to move the injured boy to a hospital unless they returned him within two days and paid 5,000 yuan ($600) in advance, which the family was unable to do.
Dozens of students were initially detained on the same day, but all except the seven teenagers were released within two days. School staff were also questioned.
It was the second such incident in the village since August when the words "Free Tibet" were written on walls in the school basketball court, the group said. Some of the seven detained were among those questioned at the time.
In Ganzi in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Tibetan villager Runggye Adak, 53, was charged with subversion after he addressed a crowd gathered for a Tibetan horse-racing event in August in support of the Dalai Lama's return.
His speech prompted clashes between authorities and villagers calling for his release. The International Campaign for Tibet said three of his nephews had been detained after calling for his release. It posted photos taken by a tourist showing riot police in the area dispersing crowds.