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Tibetans arrested in dam protest are interrogated and beaten by police, reports Radio Free Asia

Chinese police on Saturday began wide-scale, rigorous interrogations of Tibetans arrested for protesting a dam project, beating some of them so badly that they required medical attention, three sources told Radio Free Asia.

On Friday, RFA reported exclusively that police had arrested more than a 1,000 Tibetans — both Buddhist monks and local residents — of Wangbuding township in Dege County of Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province, in central China.

The detainees were “slapped and beaten severely each time they refused to answer important questions,” one source told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity for personal safety. “Many had to be taken to the hospital.”

Since Feb. 14, monks and residents had been peacefully protesting the planned construction of the Gangtuo hydropower dam on the Drichu River, known as Jinsha River in Chinese.

The dam will force two major communities to be relocated and submerge several monasteries, including the Wonto Monastery, famous for ancient murals dating back to the 13th century.

“One of the monks from Wonto Monastery was among those who had to be immediately rushed to the hospital because he had been beaten so badly that he could not even speak,”

the first source said. “He also had many severe bruises on his body.”

Detainees not given food

Many of those arrested were being held in a police station in Upper Wonto while many others were being held in an old prison in Dege County, sources told RFA.

The detainees are being held in various other places throughout Dege County as the police do not have a place to detain more than 1,000 individuals in a single location.

“In these detention centers, the arrested Tibetans were not given any food, save for some hot water, and many passed out because of the lack of food amid the freezing temperatures,” the second source told RFA.

On Friday, RFA learned that the arrested Tibetans were told to bring their own bedding and tsampa – a Tibetan staple — which sources said were an indication that the detainees would not be released anytime soon.

China has also imposed Covid 19-like restrictions in Dege County and deployed a large number of police to the areas where Tibetans have been detained, including in Upper Wonto, to bring the situation under control, the sources told RFA.

“Each of the police units brought in from outside Dege have been tasked with controlling a community each and for carrying out strict surveillance and suppression of the people there,” a third source told RFA.

“In the communities of Wonto and Yena, people have been restricted from leaving their homes and the restrictions are so severe that it is similar to what happened during the Covid-19 outbreak when the entire place was under lockdown,” said the same source.

Police began arresting the protesters on Thursday, Feb. 22. Citizen videos shared exclusively with RFA showed Chinese officials dressed in black forcibly restraining monks, who can be heard crying out to stop the dam construction.


A Canadian foreign ministry spokesperson told RFA the government is closely monitoring the situation in Dege and said the detention of Tibetans was a matter of “grave concern.”

“Canada remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation affecting Tibetans, including restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, and the protection of linguistic and cultural rights,” said Geneviève Tremblay, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.

“We urge Chinese authorities to immediately release all those (Tibetans) detained for exercising their rights to freedom of speech and of assembly,” she said.

Citing RFA’s report of the mass arrests, leaders of the Tibetan government-in-exile along with representatives of Tibet support groups from more than 42 countries issued a statement on Saturday expressing alarm.

“The crackdown on non-violent protests in Dege is beyond condemnation. The Chinese authorities’ disregard for the rights of Tibetans is unacceptable by any measure,” said Penpa Tsering, Sikyong or the President of the Central Tibetan Administration.

“The punitive acts demonstrate China’s prioritization of its ideology and interests over human rights,” he said. “We call on the Chinese government to release all those detained and to respect the rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people.”

Tibetans around the world continued to hold demonstrations in solidarity with the protesters, including in Dharamsala, India, home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Over the past week, Tibetans have demonstrated in front of Chinese Consulates in New York, Toronto and Zurich.

“I want to underscore how rare (it is that) we are able to have a little window into the situation in Tibet given the escalating control of information the Chinese government has imposed on Tibetan areas,” Maya Wang, Interim China Director, Human Rights Watch, told RFA by phone.

“People who send information out and videos like this face imprisonment and torture.”

Additional reporting by Pelbar and Tashi Wangchuk for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Malcolm Foster


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