Kathmandu, January 15 – Three Tibetans refugees, including two teenagers, who were arrested while attempting to transit through Nepal to India, were each given three-year prison sentences by a Nepalese court on January 8, 2003.
15-year-old Yanglha Tso is currently in the female unit of Kathmandu’s Central Prison while Samdup, age 15, and Tashi, age 30, both male, are in Dili Bazaar Prison.
The three Tibetans from Amdo Labrang in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Gansu Province) were arrested on December 13, 2002, in Boudha, Kathmandu, a predominently Tibetan area.
They were taken to the Immigration Department jail after spending three nights in Boudha police department holding cells.
On December 17, the Immigration Department court transferred the three to prison while an investigation into their case was conducted. On January 8, the three were taken back to the Immigration Department court and without any translators provided by the Nepalese court, were fined a total of Nepalese rupees 29083.52 ($372).
The Nepalese court paper said that failing to “pay the sum total in full, the individuals must remain in jail for three years for being illegally in Nepal and not paying the visa fees.”
“These arrests are most discouraging as they followed what we believed to be useful meetings with Nepalese officials,” said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), who just returned from Nepal and India.
“Of course, China is exerting pressure on Nepal with regard to its handling of Tibetan refugees, but the United States has certainly made clear its concerns for their safe transit,” Markey continued.
“We still look for Nepal to return to a balanced approach, as reflected in the gentlemen’s agreement with the UNHCR.”
Markey and Kelley Currie, ICT’s Director of Government Relations, led a December congressional staff delegation to the region and held meetings with Nepalese officials who deal with Tibetan refugee issues.
Since 1989 there has been an informal arrangement with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Nepal would allow the transit of new arrivals through Nepal to Tibetan exile communities in India. In the past this agreement has been referred to by Nepalese officials and human right monitors as the “Gentleman’s Agreement.”
However, when ICT asked the Director General of the Immigration Department, Subarna Lal Shrestha, about the agreement after the most recent prison sentencing, Shretha told ICT, “There is no such agreement.”
In response to inquiries made by ICT as to why these three newly-arrived refugees were not handed over to the UNHCR as is the usual practice, Mr. Shrestha said that “adequate concern was not shown in due time, therefore we acted completely in line with Nepal’s immigration law.”
Including these three newly-arrested Tibetans, there are now a total of 13 Tibetan refugees serving prison sentences between three and ten years forbeing in Nepal illegally. Fines for the other ten range between U.S. $1,600-2,700.
Tibetan support groups in Nepal believe that payment of the fines to gain release of these refugees would initiate a trend that could encourage further arrests of Tibetan refugees.
Rather, a political resolution is attempting to be sought to address the rising numbers of Tibetan refugees being jailed by the Nepalese Department of Immigration which works under the Nepalese Ministry of Home.
ICT is asking the United States and other governments with representation in Nepal to urge the UNHCR and the Nepalese government to work in league so that these incidents are avoided.
In the case of arrests and summary legal proceedings, ICT urges leniency so that high fines that might be paid for humanitarian resons do not result in the impression of extortion and increase tension among Tibetans and Nepalese.