Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

I Saw It with My Own Eyes: Abuses by Chinese Security Forces in Tibet

October 17, 2010

Matthew Myers,
Human Rights Watch
September 21, 2010

New Delhi -- On the evening of 21 September 2010,
Human Rights Watch, Friends of Tibet, and the
Jawaharlal Nehru University School for
International Studies Department of East Asian
Studies presented a seminar on the March 2008
protests in Tibet and the resulting Chinese
crackdown. Due to China's expulsion of foreign
journalists from Tibet and severe measures to
control the flow of information, Human Rights
Watch compiled their report mainly from
eyewitness testimony by Tibetan refugees,
combined with a careful reading of
Chinese-language sources. The report's author,
Nicholas Bequelin, described his findings for the
assembled crowd at JNU's SIS. Dr Bequelin's
presentation was followed by a compelling speech
by Tibetan farmer, and now political exile,
Tsewang Dhondup, on his own part in the March
2008 protests. Former Chairperson of the
Department of East Asian Studies and renowned
expert on China's Security, Dr Srikanth
Kondapalli, followed Tsewang's speech with an
analysis of the 2008 protests in their historical
and geopolitical context. Tenzin Tsundue from
Friends of Tibet translated for Tsewang and
provided closing remarks on the significance of the protests.

"I was a man who loved freedom," Tsewang Dhondup
began, "and therefore joined a protest, got beat
up, and thus had to seek exile." From this moving
opening, Tsewang explained the causes of the
protest: lack of religious freedom, including
intrusive propaganda campaigns, one-sided
development that consists of building new
railways to bring in Han settlers and take away
mineral wealth, and above all a widespread sense
of desperation. The protest began peacefully,
with Tibetan farmers shouting, "We want freedom
and our leader, the Dalai Lama, back!" Their
chants were met with gunfire from the Chinese
security forces. Five Tibetans were shot,
including Tsewang, who was hit by two bullets
while attempting to pull a wounded friend to
safety. His friend Hunga died; Tsewang had to
flee to the mountains, with a 15,000 yuan price
on his head. After living for more than a year in
the mountains, rarely seeing another human being,
Tsewang reached India. "I am a survivor," he
concluded, "there are many who have been shot.
Some are dead. Some are still hiding in the
mountains. Others are quiet, in their homes."

Dr Kondapalli also highlighted the impact of
infrastructure development on the protests.

Chinese sources highlight the 27,000 kilometers
of roads built, connecting 80% of Tibet's
counties, the 15 military airfields also
available for civilian use, a considerable
railway network, and the Kunming-Lhasa highway.
The figures that matter more to the Tibetans,
however, include the number of Han immigrants: 3
million, according to rumors on the eve of the
March protests. The protests covered three
provinces, and though most of the protests
occurred outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region,
Lhasa saw rioting where Tibetans targeted Han and
Hui (Chinese Muslim) businesses and civilians, as
well as state symbols like the Bank of China,
Xinhua News offices, government buildings, and
police stations. Dr Kondapalli ended with the
thought-provoking question of whether the March
2008 protests radically changed Tibetan identity,
comparing it to the violence in Urumqi in July
2009, which left 189 dead and brought President
Hu Jintao back to China from Italy to respond to the crisis.

Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan activist, responded
that though the March 2008 protests may not have
changed China, they changed the Tibetan struggle.
He pointed out that the protests began on 10
March (not 14 March, as is commonly cited, based
on the Lhasa rioting), the anniversary of the
1959 Tibetan uprising that resulted in the Dalai
Lama’s flight to India. Before the March 2008
protests, Tenzin added, Chinese repression had
succeeded in making each Tibetan "like an
island", distrustful of friends and neighbors for
fear of informants. Since then, Tibetans warn
each other of danger from the police. "People
were living as individuals," he said, "now we are united. Hope is back."

The presentations ended on this hopeful note, and
Drs. Bequelin and Kondapalli opened the floor for
questions. Audience members drew uncomfortable
parallels between the situations in Tibet and
Kashmir, criticised India’s weak diplomatic
stance regarding Tibet, and questioned the media
role in depicting the situation in Tibet. For activists, journalists,

and academics alike, there remains much work to
be done on the Tibetan Plateau. One can only hope
that ordinary Tibetans will someday be able to
enjoy the freedom they so ardently desire.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank