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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China: Tibet Lockdown Exacerbates Tensions

February 27, 2009

Open Tibetan Areas to Journalists, Independent Monitors

Human Rights Watch

February 25, 2009

(New York) – China should open Tibetan areas to independent monitors and
journalists as a means of diffusing ethnic tensions and preventing
violence on the eve of a string of politically sensitive anniversaries,
Human Rights Watch said today.

One year after the largest Tibetan protests for more than two decades,
the presence of such observers would serve as an incentive for good
behavior for crowds, which have sometimes turned violent, and security
forces, which have used disproportionate force and arbitrary detention
as tools of ordinary policing.

February 25 marks the traditional Tibetan New Year, or Losar; March 10
is the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa uprising and the Dalai Lama’s
escape to India; and March 28 marks the new central government-imposed
“Serfs Emancipation Day.”

“Resorting to locking down Tibet isn’t merely a statement about the
security situation there, it’s also an admission of failure by the
government to effectively address key grievances,” said Sophie
Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Relying
exclusively on repressive policies will only lead to increased
polarization and resentment, while further jeopardizing genuine
stability across Tibet.”

In recent weeks, the Chinese government significantly increased the
number of security forces across Tibet. Beijing tightened already highly
limited access for international media, sealed off monasteries, and
imposed sweeping restrictions on movement with the extensive use of
arbitrary detention as a tool of enforcement and intimidation.

Foreign media have been effectively barred from freely reporting in
Tibetan areas (with the exception of several government-organized and
controlled tours) since protests by monks and violence in the Tibetan
capital Lhasa in March 2008. In April 2008, the Chinese government
turned down a request from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to
visit Tibet on grounds that it was “inconvenient.” A separate appeal
issued jointly by six UN special rapporteurs was similarly declined.

In Lhasa, the authorities have strictly implemented new measures issued
in mid-January, which require the registration of temporary residents in
the city. This process gives the police full discretionary power, and
has resulted in arbitrary expulsion of non-permanent residents.

In addition, the Lhasa authorities have increased police operations
aimed at identifying and detaining people who are suspected of either
hindering the anti-separatism campaign or becoming potential protesters.
These include former political prisoners and their families, minor
offenders and temporary visitors. To process the large number of
administrative arrests resulting from these heightened security
measures, the authorities appear to have resorted to large-scale
administrative detention outside of police stations and formal detention

One such facility, according to several reports from local residents
received by Human Rights Watch, is a former military work unit on the
outskirts of Lhasa currently housing hundreds of temporary detainees and
several armed police forces units. Situated in Caigongtang Xiang
(Tibetan: Tshal Gungthang), immediately east of Lhasa city, this large
facility is reported to be holding people who are to be sent back to
neighboring counties, prefectures, or the provinces of their household
registration. One source said that people were being taken daily by the
police to the train station or being told by the police that they will
be held until after March for security reasons.

Satellite pictures examined by Human Rights Watch matched the
description given by one eyewitness of large, walled facilities with
several watchtowers overlooking rows of multi-storey buildings organized
around a yard. No other independent confirmation could be immediately
obtained given the current restrictions on movement in Tibet.

Human Rights Watch said that major obstacles to resolving tensions in
Tibetan areas were the Chinese authorities’ overreliance on coercive
measures and failure to uphold basic human rights standards – such as
distinguishing between peaceful dissent protected under freedom of
expression and assembly, and violent protest. Violent protest is not
protected speech under human rights law, and the Chinese government has
a duty to maintain public order and prevent harm to individuals. This
duty, however, has to be carried out with due respect for fundamental
human rights, including the principle of using the minimum force
necessary in countering violent protests.

Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to respect the right to
freedom of expression and information, and to facilitate access for
media and human rights monitors who seek to enter areas where there are
reasonable grounds to believe that violations of human rights or
humanitarian law are being, or have been, committed. Provisions of
China’s criminal code that criminalize peaceful dissent and expression,
such as “inciting separatism,” contravene international human rights law.

“The Chinese government’s concept of what constitutes a national
security threat needs to be drastically narrowed and brought in line
with international standards,” said Richardson. “Ideologically driven
‘anti-separatism campaigns’ lead to serious violations of human rights
and further polarize ethnic communities.”

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