By Tendar Tsering
DHARAMSHALA, February 17: In a fresh warning to Beijing, an international rights group has said the detention of Tibetan pilgrims on their return journey from pilgrimage to India and Nepal, will only escalate tensions in Tibetan regions.
"The Chinese government should immediately release Tibetans who have been detained by local police and are being forced to undergo political re-education after travelling to India to listen to religious teachings there," New York based Human Rights Watch said yesterday.
Hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims have been arbitrarily detained and disappeared after China set up a dozen ad hoc security checkpoints from the border town of Dram (Ch: Zhangmu) at the Nepal-Tibet border all the way to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.
Those returning by air had to go through multiple searches on arrival at Gonkar airport outside Lhasa, a process lasting from four to six hours.
Earlier reports had indicated that the Tibetans, including retired Communist Party and government cadre and senior citizens, some as old as 80 years, could be detained until May.
Calling this latest arrest drive, the “first known instance since the late 1970s” in which the Chinese authorities have detained laypeople in Tibet in large numbers to force them to undergo re-education, HRW said "arbitrarily detaining people and forcing them to undergo political indoctrination is an abuse of Chinese and international laws."
"Authorities in the region should release these individuals, as their detention only escalates the tension in Tibetan regions which already have increased limits on travel and communication as well as troop and security presence," the rights group said.
In earlier reports of mass arrests, Chinese security forces had surrounded a group of Tibetan pilgrims at a railway station in Lhasa on January 31 and forcibly took them away on a train bound for China. Their whereabouts and well-being are not yet known.
The rights grout noted that mass detentions in the so called Tibetan Autonomous Region indicate that the crackdown in eastern Tibetan areas has expanded to the entire Tibetan plateau, involving “techniques not used in the region for several decades."
In a clear case of racial discrimination, the rights group also pointed out that only Tibetan pilgrims were being detained and harassed, leaving out ethnic Chinese pilgrims who in large numbers had attended the teachings of the Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama in January.
Chinese authorities on Sunday had issued a three-day deadline to all Tibetan officials who were on pilgrimage, warning them of harsh punishments if they failed to return back to their homes within the set deadline.
“The last few years have made clear that repression breeds unrest,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW.
“The Chinese government undermines its own quest for ‘stability’ in the region by failing to address the underlying causes of unrest.”