Demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet turned violent in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, yesterday, as police wielded bamboo clubs and beat demonstrators, including Buddhist monks and nuns. The UN has said Nepal's harsh clampdown on Tibetan demonstrators violates international human rights law, including the right to peaceful assembly, as embodied in treaties signed by Nepal.
Demonstrations that began in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, more nearly 3 weeks ago have now spread to neighboring provinces in China, and into Nepal and India. The Kathmandu clashes came as large crowds accusing China of human rights abuses in Tibet tried to approach the Chinese embassy grounds.
The occasion of the Olympic torch officially passing from Greece to China today also drew more demonstrations. Ceremonies were disrupted last week, and again today, and China is now wrestling with what some observers are describing as a "PR nightmare" for which the Beijing government may be ill-equipped, as it uses force to crush the protests.
Speculation both from official sources and from journalists says Tibet may find itself under near total "military lockdown" during the run-up to the Olympic games, and during the games as well. Foreign journalists have been banned from Tibet, and reports of violence against demonstrators or killings at the hands of security forces have been difficult to confirm.
The UK's Independent newspaper reports that one Tibetan exile, who fled under dangerous conditions 11 years ago, has now returned to film in secret "the stories of torture, murder and forced sterilisation that China does not want the world to hear". Some reports shown in documentaries on British television are highly disturbing, including one video shot by western climbers in 2006, allegedly showing "a line of refugees plodding through the snow, with some of their number suddenly picked off by bullets fired by the Chinese soldiers behind them".
According to the Independent, Tibet, which covers an area roughly the size of western Europe, is under de facto military occupation, with "an estimated one Chinese soldier for every 20 Tibetans – as opposed to one soldier per 1,400 Chinese citizens."
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that "When the International Olympic Committee assigned the 2008 summer Olympic Games to Beijing on 13 July 2001, the Chinese police were intensifying a crackdown on subversive elements, including Internet users and journalists. Six years later, nothing has changed."
The media freedoms watchdog group adds that:
Now, a year before the opening ceremony, it is clear the Chinese government still sees the media and Internet as strategic sectors that cannot be left to the “hostile forces” denounced by President Hu Jintao. The departments of propaganda and public security and the cyber-police, all conservative bastions, implement censorship with scrupulous care.
China is now facing what many view as a crucial moment in its political history. It is planning to "take its place on the world stage" by hosting the Olympics this year, but still needs to grapple with the tension between staunch traditional nationalism, and the pressures placed on its regime by the views of the international community.
Governments around the world, including US president George W. Bush, have called on Beijing to use "restraint" in Tibet, to lift its freeze on foreign reporting from the region, and to hold talks with the Dalai Lama. The fact that official violence against demonstrators has now also spread to other nations is making the Tibet problem even more visible, which means Beijing's efforts to hide it from the eyes of the world may be in vain.