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China’s oppression of Tibetans has dramatically increased

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In Dutch, the poster says 'China stop torturing Tibetans to death.' by Emily Korstanje

‘They would hang me up for several hours with my hands tied to a rope…once I was beaten continuously for two days with nothing to eat nor a drop of water to drink,’ said Labrang Jigme, a Tibetan monk arrested for peaceful protesting in Tibet. ‘The second time I was unconscious for six days unable to open my eyes or speak a word.’

Upon being released, Jigme was forced to sign a document stating that he was not tortured.

After the Chinese military took over Tibet in 1949, Tibetans have been treated as second-class citizens in their own country. They are kicked out of their homes and sent to townships so the government can ‘develop’ occupied spaces. Over 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed and those survived are not being used by monks, but ironically, are used as spiritual attractions for – mostly Chinese – tourists while they tighten Tibetans’ religious freedom. Areas that were once spiritual spots and pure nature are used as nuclear waste sites. Worst of all, Tibetans do not have freedom of speech, religion or movement. Many passports have been recalled and the borders are closed, trapping Tibetans in the country as their culture and land diminishes.

I was beaten continuously for two days with nothing to eat nor a drop of water to drink

‘They are destroying our people, beautiful culture, and land,’ said social worker and Tibetan refugee, Sonam Sangpo.

According to International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), massive peaceful protests in 2008 led to an intensive crackdown on the country with more than 600 Tibetans imprisoned and approximately 150 self-immolations – Tibetans light themselves on fire as an individual form of protests against oppression.

‘The Chinese government fears that if they don’t completely crush any form of protest they will lose control of Tibetans,’ said Executive Director of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Europe, Tsering Jampa. ‘Instead of trying to assess why Tibetans self-immolate and change the situation, they come down harder and more fierce each time.’

International Campaign for Tibet (ICT)'s European director, Tsering Jampa, gathering signatures for the campaign.

Emily Korstanje

Recent evidence shows that there has been a significant increase of Tibetan political prisoners since the protests, and torture has become more widespread than ever. Because of these outstanding cases, in November 2015, the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) met with China officials and asked them to account for ‘deeply entrenched’ torture and ill treatment, according to a published report by ICT.

‘It (the report) also reflects alarm at China’s attempts to subvert criticism of its record on human rights and to distort the reality,’ said Executive Director of ICT Germany, Kai Mueller. For example, when ICT brought forward torture devices that were used on prisoners, Chinese officials argued they were made comfortable with cushions so they could no longer be considered torture devices.

‘We had a Tibetan monk who was able to escape prison, testify and show examples of the torture devices that were used on him,’ Jampa said. ‘Chinese officials refused to acknowledge this case and many other cases brought before them.’

The Dalai Lama is simply asking that Tibetans have the same rights and freedom as the Chinese have

Another case brought before CAT included a Tibetan man who was shot and killed while trying to intervene on behalf of an elderly monk who was beaten with an iron rod in the prison. The elderly man later died of what Chinese officials called ‘natural causes’ even though his body showed obvious signs of torture and brutal beatings.

China refused to acknowledge these cases because of the ‘unverifiable nature of information’. CAT strongly urged China to provide more insight on these brutal cases, which have created a lot of distress among Tibetans.

China has been able to continue and intensify their control because they have successfully closed Tibet off from the rest of the world. So during the UN’s confrontation with China, ICT, which focuses on monitoring and reporting on Tibetan human rights and advocating for Tibetans imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs, ran a campaign in the Netherlands against torture in Tibet. This was to raise awareness about the abuse that Tibetans are subjected to and to gather signatures to put pressure on European government officials who would then put pressure on the Chinese government.

Emily Korstanje

International Campaign for Tibet has helped several prisoners such as Ngawang Sangdrol, Phuntsog Nyidron and Dhondup Wangchen get released; each who share horrific stories of their imprisonment.

China refuses to give up Tibet due to its strategic location, land space, natural resources, and the fact that there are now more Chinese in Tibet than Tibetans because of immigration. Therefore, the Dalai Lama – Tibetans’ spiritual leader currently living in exile in India – has pleaded with the Chinese government to make Tibet truly autonomous so people can have freedom of speech, religion, and movement.

‘The Dalai Lama is not asking that the Chinese leave, we know it is too late for that,’ Sangpo said. ‘He is simply asking that Tibetans have the same rights and freedom as the Chinese have. We all ask for that and for the preservation of our beautiful culture.’

China’s influence in Nepal endangers Tibetan refugees

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Buddhist flags – people have freedom of religion in Nepal, which is why so many Tibetan Buddhists have stayed there. by Emily Korstanje

Tibetan refugees are extremely passionate about their homeland, culture and freedom – which is why it has devastated so many families to have to flee the country ever since the Chinese military invaded and took control of Tibet in 1949.

Until 2008, over roughly 128,000 Tibetans made it through the incredibly dangerous crossing over the Himalayas and more than 20,000 are currently living in Nepal as refugees, according to the Central Tibetan Administration and International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). Yet because of the overwhelming amount of undocumented Tibetans in Nepal, it is extremely difficult to get a precise number.

A Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal.

Emily Korstanje

It is estimated that somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 Tibetans were coming into Nepal each year. However, after several massive peaceful protests in Tibet in 2008, China intensely cracked down on Tibetans and severely tightened the borders. Since then there has been a dramatic decrease of refugees with roughly a few hundred people known to have made the journey last year and only 60 this year.

Tibetans in Nepal are known for their beautiful shops filled with stunning crafts and jewellery. One of the reasons they have these shops is because it is nearly impossible to gain Nepalese citizenship and they are not allowed to work for Nepalese corporations. Owning a small business, selling items on the street or selling Tibetan products to tourists inside their welcoming refugee camps are their only options for making a living in Nepal.

A Tibetan refugee making jewellery to sell inside the camp.

Emily Korstanje

Among the Tibetan community in Nepal, you will find many Tibetan flags with the words ‘Free Tibet’ in various languages, along with pictures of the Dalai Lama. They use these items to represent their desire for freedom, human rights, and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. In Tibet, speaking out against China’s control or exhibiting such items could lead to imprisonment, torture, and even death.

‘When China took over Tibet, we had to flee for our freedom. My family didn’t want to live in fear and oppression, so they took the dangerous journey through the mountains to Nepal,’ said Tibetan shop owner Dzasa.*

Like many refugees currently living in Nepal, he was only a child when his parents fled Tibet in fear. He has lived in Nepal nearly his entire life, where his son (Dawa) was born.

Free Tibet stickers that are seen throughout the Tibetan community.

Emily Korstanje

‘The Chinese military were waiting at the border and captured my father. No one ever saw him again. We believe he was in prison and perhaps killed,’ Dzasa said.

The Chinese military have tightened the border so much that people are forced to find even longer and more dangerous routes through the mountain. Tibetans attempting to cross the border into Nepal face deportation at the hands of Nepalese border guards. The Nepalese government has also shut down various NGOs in the country that work toward supporting Tibetan refugees and those in transit to India as well as the U.S. resettlement plan, which offers Tibetan refugees the opportunity resettle in the United States.

China has an incredible influence over Nepal, whose government deeply admires the communist state. In fact, the country’s 10-year civil war was led by rebels called Maoists after China’s former communist leader. And while Nepal suffers from India’s current alleged fuel blockade, they are hoping to build even stronger ties with China.

Dzasa in his craft/jewellery shop in Nepal.

Emily Korstanje

Because of this crucial relationship with China, during Tibetan Buddhist holidays Nepalese soldiers walk through Tibetan refugee camps to monitor and ensure there are no protests or ‘uprisings against China’. Tibetan refugees are prohibited to partake in any kind of peaceful protests, which is upsetting for the many refugees who want to raise awareness of the injustice in their homeland.

‘A few years ago we wanted to silently walk around Pokhara Lake with “Free Tibet” signs but the Chinese government told Nepal they must put an end to it,’ said Tashi, a Tibetan refugee living in one of Pokhara’s camps.

During the attempted protest Nepalese soldiers were told to shut it down and began pushing through the silent protestors, throwing down their signs and yelling at everyone to go home.

An overview of Dzasa’s shop, which is similar to many Tibetan shops in the area.

Emily Korstanje

‘Some of the tourists ran toward us and even started to cry because they saw we were peacefully protesting. They knew we were not there to harm, simply to stand up for our people’s rights,’ Tashi said.

Many Tibetans, like Dzasa’s son, who were born in the refugee camps and spent their entire lives in Nepal, do not have passports since Tibetan parents are not able to register their children’s birth. They are not fully accepted in Nepal and considered as second-class citizens. These refugee children feel trapped without any official form of identification.

One of the many Stupas (Buddhist shrines) in Nepal.

Emily Korstanje

As China’s influence increases in Nepal, Tibetan refugees become more vulnerable and are subject to the type of control that their families fled from.

‘Until China stops controlling and oppressing Tibetans, until it allows it to be a truly autonomous region where we can keep our culture and freedom, Tibetans in and out of Tibet will not feel safe or fully free,’ said one of Nepal’s Tibetan camp leaders and social worker, Tenzin.

*Note: names have been changed for the safety of refugees living in Nepal.

‘The earthquake killed thousands but the blockade can kill millions'

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A blind elderly woman living in a remote village. With the current lack of fuel, ambulances are not able to travel across the country, resulting in many people unable to get to hospitals. © Emily Korstanje

After everything that Nepal has endured over past year, no-one believed the situation could get worse. Yet it has. With the current blockade of fuel, food and medicine, UNICEF has warned that more than three million children under the age of five are at risk of death or disease.

‘The plight that children and their families are facing in the country has been worsening by the day and will deteriorate further in the winter months,’ said UNICEF Regional Director Karin Hulshof. ‘Children need to be protected from disease, cold and hunger. UNICEF urges all sides to address the restrictions on essential imports of supplies to Nepal. There is no time to lose.’

The first snow has already fallen at lower levels at the foot of the mountains, and temperatures are rapidly decreasing. Most of the people who were affected by the earthquake are closer to the mountains and will suffer greatly this winter, without proper homes, medical aid or fuel.

UNICEF reported that ambulances have not been able to get across the country, resulting in a drop of healthy births at hospitals and health centres. As winter approaches, the lack of heating increases the risk of hypothermia and death of new-borns.

‘The earthquake killed thousands but the blockade can kill millions,’ said local NGO chairperson Sapana Basyal.

Because of the earthquake, the NGO has most recently focused on providing aid to those who were worst hit, but the fuel crisis is slowing down their work.

‘Survivors are currently living in makeshift houses. When they start suffering, they will not be able to go to the hospital,’ Sapana said. ‘They will not survive. This is an emergency.’

Buses waiting in line for petrol. Most buses have to resort to black-market fuel, including school buses to keep schools from shutting down.

Emily Korstanje

Even more restaurants and hotels have closed down and tourism has reached an all-time low. For those able to find cooking gas, it is overwhelmingly expensive; transportation is now five times the average price, and even school buses are forced to buy black-market fuel.

People and businesses are relying on firewood to survive. But firewood causes indoor pollution – which last year resulted in 800,000 children falling sick with pneumonia and 5,000 deaths, and now there are no medical supplies or vehicles to help. A lack of forest trees also creates dangerous landslides in these cold and rainy months.

While the Nepalese government continues to accuse India for the blockade, the people of Nepal are growing weary and bitter towards both India and their own government for not stepping in. In addition, the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has been allegedly profiting from black-market fuel.

‘We need our government to step up. We need something concrete, anything. They say they are talking. Talking to protesters in the south, talking to India, talking to China, but where is the action?’ Sapana said. ‘It’s making us all feel hopeless and very angry.’

Unfortunately the ‘talks’ that government officials have been having with various parties have resulted in many promises but few – if any – changes in the situation.

With the attempt to break free from India’s stronghold, Nepal turned to China to bring in fuel. But the earthquake destroyed the already dangerous route to China, making it extremely difficult for supply trucks to get through. After a dangerous attempt to get bring in a small amount of supplies, it became obvious that China will not be able to bring in what is needed until the road is fixed, which cannot happen in the near future.

The people in Nepal are extremely worried about the coming months as the situation worsens. Most have lost hope in the government and are looking to the international community for help. Not for aid, but for pressure to be put on both India and Nepal in order for the border dispute to be resolved. They need the world to raise awareness of the situation.

‘The best way to help us is to make some noise. Raise awareness in the media! Support Nepal through social media. Let the world know that millions will die if we don’t get crucial supplies,’ Sapana said.

Nepalese stuck between petrol and politics

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Many buses are not running and bus stations are completely overcrowded in Kathmandu. by Emily Korstanje

What was once Nepal’s overwhelmingly bustling and busy capital city, Kathmandu has dramatically slowed down. Traffic has moved from the road to massive queues where drivers must wait several days for fuel, hoping it is still available by the time they reach the petrol station. Schools are closing, restaurants have been forced to shut down, travelling throughout the country is about four times the average price and aircrafts have to stop by neighbouring countries for aviation fuel in order to make long journeys.

Cars lining up as far as the eye can see for several days, waiting for petrol in Pokhara.

Emily Korstanje

Still recovering from the devastating earthquake in April, everyone in Nepal has been brutally affected by a lack of crucial supplies coming into the country. People who were injured during the earthquake are not able to get to work without their vehicles, forcing them to close their shops as they wait in line for several days just to get a week’s worth of fuel.

Motorbikes lining up and waiting several days for petrol in Pokhara.

Emily Korstanje

Hotels are struggling to survive without cooking gas to make food for their guests. Some are using their destroyed buildings as firewood, including hotel owner Oasis Bhaju. ‘We have no other choice but to use the remains of our house to cook food,’ he said. ‘When that runs out, we will have to close our hotel unless we get fuel soon.’

People camping out in front of their motorbikes near a petrol station in Pokhara, hoping to get a bit of fuel.

Emily Korstanje

The landlocked country relies solely on India for its fuel. Nepal has accused India of an undeclared fuel blockade, but India denies this and has stated instead that the fuel trucks are not able to enter the country as a result of violent protests along the border. The people of Nepal are highly sceptical.

Sitting on top of a bus, which is normally illegal, has been temporarily allowed because of the fuel crisis.

Emily Korstanje

After witnessing the country’s obvious disapproval of Nepal’s new constitution, India’s top diplomat, according to a BBC article, was sent to discuss the constitution before it was implemented. He is believed to have pressed the Nepalese government to delay the adoption of the constitution and hold discussions with political groups opposed to it.

A woman walking past one of the many #backoffindia signs.

Emily Korstanje

Nepal saw this as interfering with government affairs and grew angrier when India commented that everyone should be included in the new constitution – referring to the Madhesis, an indigenous group that has protested against elements within the new constitution.

Garbage is overflowing in normal pick up spots in Patan, Kathmandu as trucks have not been able to collect waste.

Emily Korstanje

The Madhesis, who share strong ethnic ties with India, are against the fact that the new constitution will split the Terai area where they live into two provinces. They fear that the northern part of the new provinces will dominate the already marginalized people.

A girl standing with her bag of food next to the heap of waste.

Emily Korstanje

Nepal’s strong belief that the fuel crisis is a result of India’s ‘interference’ resulted in the nationwide hashtag ‘#backoffindia’, which is seen throughout the country and accompanied by the slogan ‘Let the world know that India has cut petroleum and other supplies to Nepal because Nepal didn’t let it interfere with politics.’

More people on top of an overcrowded bus.

Emily Korstanje

Despite all the back-and-forth statements, Nepal has tried to assure India that they will create a safe path if they would allow the supply trucks to come in. India responded by declaring that, first, Nepal must settle the dispute with the people of the Terai, and that cross-border supplies can then resume.

A man showing an X-Ray of metal rods placed in his legs after they were shattered during the earthquake. His business had to close until he received a small amount of petrol to get to work. He told us this was very common and happened to many people he knows.

Emily Korstanje

Desperate for fuel and trying to break free from what’s believed to be India’s stronghold over the country, Nepal is reaching out to the Chinese government for supplies.

Protestors, in the Terai area, shattered the windshields and windows of busses headed back to Kathmandu after their largest festival, Dashain.

Jeff Davids

The biggest problem facing this approach is the terrain. The earthquake destroyed the already dangerous road to China, and trying to prepare it for several tanks to get through safely will be a difficult and hazardous task. A risk that Nepal has to take as the crisis is getting worse.

Nepal’s suffering will continue as long as crucial supplies are kept from entering the country.