Chinese security forces used “disproportionate force” and acted with “deliberate brutality” in crushing an anti-government protest in Tibet in 2008, according to an international human rights group.
In a 73-page report titled “‘I Saw It with My Own Eyes’: Abuses by Security Forces in Tibet, 2008-2010,” Human Rights Watch said China continues to violate the rights of Tibetans suspected of sympathizing with the protest movement.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a phone interview that the group’s researchers found no evidence to suggest that Chinese officials were reluctant to use force against the protesters.
“This was all about suppressing protests and crushing separatist forces,” she said.
The report is based on more than 200 interviews with Tibetan refugees and official Chinese sources.
China closely guards foreign access to Tibet, so the rights group interviewed Tibetans and visitors who had left China after the protests.
Earlier, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had sought to investigate the crackdown in Tibet but was similarly rebuffed by the Chinese government.
“Typically, we don’t get much of a response from the Chinese. The government either does not respond, or flatly refutes the accusations,” Ms. Richardson said.
Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, accused Human Rights Watch of having long taken what he described as a “biased attitude of bigotry toward China” and said the “so-called report on Tibet is beneath refutation.”
“We urge the organization to take off its ‘rose-tined spectacles’ when it comes to China and stop fabricating papers that are aimed to boost the morale of anti-China forces, misleading the general public and vilifying the Chinese government,” Mr. Wang said.
The rights group also has condemned violence by Tibetans.
In 2008, Tibetan monks staged peaceful protests to mark the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule.
Following a police crackdown, the demonstrations descended into rioting, arson, looting and killing.
Mr. Wang said “solid evidence” demonstrates the riots were orchestrated by the “clique” of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama has rebutted those charges.
Mr. Wang said the protest was an attempt to “take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence.”
“The Chinese government was forced to take lawful measures to protect local people’s life and property, restore social order and safeguard China’s territorial integrity, which is fully supported by the Chinese people including the Tibetan compatriots,” he said.
The accusations of use of force by the Chinese government are not new.
However, Ms. Richardson said the purpose of the Human Rights Watch investigation was to “arm people with an alternative narrative of what happened.”
When diplomats and journalists are given access to Chinese officials, they can challenge the government line, she said.
According to the report, Chinese security forces opened fire indiscriminately on demonstrators in at least four separate incidents, including in one area of downtown Lhasa on March 14.
“They were firing straight at people. They were coming from the direction of Jiangsu Lu firing at any Tibetans they saw, and many people had been killed,” said Pema Lhakyi (not her real name), a 24-year-old Lhasa resident.
Another recounted beatings at the hands of the People’s Armed Police (PAP).
“The beatings continued in the courtyard. The PAP soldiers were using belts and the butt of their guns … They were kicking him on the ground, and he was bleeding a lot-there was so much blood. Then they left him just lying on the ground, motionless … I saw it with my own eyes,” said Lhundrup Dorje (not his real name), a resident from Lhasa.
In Lhasa alone, 21 people were killed and several hundred injured between March 14-15 in 2008, according to government figures.
The Chinese government had stated its intent to handle those detained in connection with the protests “according to the law.”
Ms. Richardson said the report “decisively refutes the Chinese government’s claim that it handled the protests in line with international standards and domestic laws.”
The report says thousands of demonstrators and ordinary Tibetans were detained without due process and without regard to legal procedures.
“Abuses by security forces are unlikely to quell, and may even aggravate, the longstanding grievances that prompted the protests in the first place,” Ms. Richardson said.