KATHMANDU: The wave of protests against Chinese rule that began in Tibet in March 2008 and the resulting crackdown transformed the political landscape – and made a dramatic impact on the situation for Tibetans across the border in Nepal.
In an attempt to prevent pro-Tibet protests in Nepal, the Chinese authorities stepped up their efforts to influence the Nepalese government, judicial system and civil society. While the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to guarantee safe transit of Tibetans escaping from Tibet through Nepal is still largely implemented, the Nepalese government has adopted a harder line against expressions of the Tibetan identity by the long-staying Tibetan refugee community in Nepal. Acquiescence to Chinese demands by the Nepalese government threatens the integrity of Nepalese democratic and legal institutions and runs counter to the strong cultural and religious ties among the Himalayan peoples that have existed for centuries.
Nepal’s bend towards China on Tibetan issues is characterized by the following:
- A change in the use of language by Nepalese authorities to describe the Tibetan refugee flow through their country, suggesting a ‘law and order’ approach rather than the humanitarian approach that has characterized Nepal’s treatment of Tibetans over the last decades.
- Continuing harassment and extortion of long-staying Tibetans in Nepal, contributing to a widespread sense of fear and insecurity.
- Cancellation of peaceful expressions of the Tibetan identity, such as the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
- Pre-emptive arrests of Tibetans, ID checks and house searches.
- Large-scale police deployment in Tibetan communities.
- The harassment of Nepalese journalists for attempting to report on police actions in Tibetan communities, and a plethora of hostile articles in the Nepalese media alleging ‘Free Tibet’ conspiracies.
- A growing presence of organizations sympathetic to the Chinese government position, both secular and religious, some popularly assumed to have links with the Chinese Embassy.
- The resistance of the Nepalese government to provide durable solutions for certain long-staying Tibetan refugees in Nepal, either by regularizing their legal status or allowing their resettlement to the United States through a refugees admission program proposed by the U.S. Government in 2005
- A pattern of hostile coverage of the Tibetan community and their supporters in the Nepalese media
For more information on the situation of Tibetans in Nepal, see ICT’s annual report: Dangerous Crossings: Conditions impacting the flight of Tibetan refugees