Armed Nepalese police in riot gear seized ballot boxes that were being used by Tibetans to vote for a new Prime Minister and Parliament in exile in a dramatic new development in Kathmandu today.
Permission had effectively been given by the Nepalese authorities for the election in exile, involving nearly 9,000 Tibetans, but police stormed three centers where the Tibetan exile community were placing their vote and took the ballot boxes. According to Tibetan sources in touch with prominent Nepalese rights advocates, the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu had instructed the Nepalese Home Ministry to stop the election.
This is the latest incident of assertive actions by the Chinese authorities in Nepal's sovereign territory, which has led to a tougher approach by the Nepalese authorities to the Tibetan community. More entrenched and vigorous strategies by the Beijing government to influence the Nepalese government, border forces, judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal mean that Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralized and at risk.
A Tibetan eyewitness to the seizure of the ballot boxes today said: "This was a terrible day for Tibetans in Nepal. People felt desperate. Many of the Tibetan elders in the community were crying, they were not able to do anything as there were so many police and they were so aggressive." (Footage of the incident by Radio Free Asia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2_N_iSu3DY).
There is serious concern at the implications for Tibetans in Nepal, as personal and identifying details were included on the ballot forms. The Chinese and Nepalese governments have recently made a new agreement to share information relating to "anti-China" activities in Nepal. The Nepalese press reported that "Nepal and China have set up a high-level mechanism to share intelligence and information on security matters to contain anti-China activities in Nepal." (eKantipur.com, August 7). There is also concern about the impact on the election itself as the Tibetan population in Nepal represent a substantial section of the exile Tibetan electorate.
Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: "This is an unwarranted police action against the exercise of freedom of expression by Tibetans living in a democratic Nepal. China's hand in this action is deeply troubling, especially because of the personal and identifying details of the Tibetans included on the ballot forms. This is indicative of the Chinese government's determination to constrict the space in Nepal's civil society for Tibetans."
The exile Tibetan community in countries across the world voted today in the first stage of a process established by the Tibetan government in exile to elect a new Kalon Tripa, or Tibetan Prime Minister, and also for members who will form the 15th Tibetan Parliament in exile. The present Kalon Tripa, based in Dharamsala, India, is Professor Samdhong Rinpoche.
5316 Tibetans were registered to vote in the Boudhanath stupa are of Kathmandu, 980 in Jawalakhel, 2336 in Swayambhunath at the nunnery. The same Tibetan source said: "In Jawalakel they had finished voting and the boxes had already been removed by 3:30. In Boudha they took 15 ballot boxes and in Swayambhu they seized five boxes."
Parliamentarians from 14 different countries commemorated the 50th anniversary of Tibetan democracy in exile on September 2 in Bylakuppe, the largest Tibetan settlement in India. At the meeting, the exile Tibetan government and people honored the Dalai Lama for leading the Tibetan freedom struggle and for establishing democracy in the exile community.
The elections today for both the Kalon Tripa and members who will form the 15th Tibetan Parliament in exile were the first step towards the 2011 general elections, which will decide the third directly elected Tibetan Prime Minister and the successor to the incumbent Kalon Tripa, marking the first democratic transfer of executive power. The final round of elections will be held next year on March 20.
For information on the intensifying dangers for Tibetans in Nepal, see ICT reports http://www.savetibet.org/documents/reports/dangerous-crossing-2009-update and http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/fragile-welcome-china%E2%80%99s-influence-nepal-and-its-impact-tibetans.
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