2010/07/22

Rights group says China forces committed abuses in Tibet

BEIJING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese security forces brutally beat and even shot dead some protesters during unrest in Tibet in 2008, and tortured many in the subsequent crackdown, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday.

The New York-based organisation said it had based its findings on interviews with more than 200 Tibetan refugees and other witnesses between March 2008 and April 2010, as well as official information.

"Dozens of eyewitness testimonies and the government's own sources show clearly the official willingness to use lethal force against unarmed protesters," said Sophie Richardson, the group's Asia advocacy director.

"This report decisively refutes the Chinese government's claim that it handled the protests in line with international standards and domestic laws," she said, calling for a Chinese and international probe.

China's government did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
The unrest began on March 10, 2008 with a string of peaceful protests marking the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that forced the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, to flee into exile.

The demonstrations in Tibet's capital Lhasa later descended into violence and spread to neighbouring areas with significant Tibetan populations.

China -- which insists it adhered to international practices when dealing with the protests -- says 21 people were killed by rioters during the turmoil.

Exiled groups, for their part, say more than 200 Tibetans died -- most of them at the hands of Chinese security forces.

"I can tell you as a responsible official that guns were absolutely not fired," Qiangba Puncog, Tibet's governor at the time, said three days after the Lhasa violence.

But according to the HRW report, witnesses say lethal force was used to disperse demonstrators on March 14 on several occasions, although restraint was used at other times.

"When the soldiers showed up, they threw tear gas... Then there was indiscriminate shooting and we saw two people shot dead in front of us," one Tibetan protester told HRW.

"One died in the doorway of the Mentsikhang (outpatient department of the Tibetan hospital)... That day the hospitals had been ordered not to help anyone."

Other witnesses told stories of fatal shootings -- including at least one innocent bystander who was killed -- in Lhasa and in surrounding Tibetan areas.

The state-run Xinhua news agency acknowledged two shooting incidents -- one where it said police shot four people in "self-defence", and another in which security forces had to fire warning shots.

The HRW report also said some peaceful protests that started on March 10 were broken up with force, with one witness describing police hitting monks and lay-people with electric batons.

According to the report, the government has acknowledged detaining at least 3,300 people over the unrest in Tibetan areas.

Witnesses told HRW of regular beatings and the use of torture to extract confessions.

In one example, Nechung, a 38-year-old mother of four, was detained for eight days in March 2008 for allegedly tearing down the signboard of the police station in Aba, a Tibetan area in Sichuan province, the report said.

When she was freed, "she was unable to speak or eat without vomiting, had bruises on her body and difficulty breathing".

Nechung died 22 days later, it added.

According to the relative of one Tibetan man who was held in three different facilities, detainees at one place near Lhasa had their hands tied behind their backs and were made to kneel with their heads on their knees.

"When they leaned or fell over they were beaten and forced to resume their position. This went on for several days," the relative said.

HRW called on the Chinese government to investigate the protests and their aftermath, and open the region to media and international monitors.

"The need for an international investigation into the situation in Tibet is as great as ever," Richardson said.

"Abuses by security forces are unlikely to quell, and may even aggravate, the longstanding grievances that prompted the protests in the first place."