In the first account of the fate of the Tibetans captured by Chinese troops following the shooting of refugees on the Nangpa La Pass on September 30, 2006, a Tibetan teenager has told his story to international media after his second, successful escape attempt.
Jamyang Samten, aged 15, told his story to journalists in the Indian town of Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile on Tuesday. Jamyang was one of 32 Tibetans captured by the Chinese after they shot at the group of refugees on the high Himalayan pass, killing two of them. The captured group included children as young as four. The older children and adults, including Jamyang Samten, were tortured with electric cattle prods, a treatment favoured by Chinese officials for recalcitrant Tibetans.
Samten told the AP that his group of 32 - all under 20 years old - was traveling behind the first group when Chinese border guards opened fire. Their guide told them to hide behind boulders and wait while he investigated.Chinese officials have declined to respond to Samten's allegations. As noted above, the Chinese story until this point involves their border troops coming under attack by the refugees, and shooting them in self defence -- which is not believed by anyone.
He never returned, Samten said, and the group waited for three days in the snowy peaks until their food ran out and they made another go at the pass.
"As we went across, the Chinese guards started shooting near us to frighten us," he said. They surrendered, were arrested and thrown into a truck, he said.
Inside there was the body of a dead nun and a wounded man who had rags tied around a bullet wound in his leg, Samten said.
Shortly after the shooting, the Chinese government, in a statement that appeared to describe the same incident, said its border forces killed one person when they clashed with some 70 people trying to leave the country illegally. It said a second person died later. But it said Chinese forces were attacked and acted in self-defense.
Samten said his group was taken from an army camp to a police station four hours away. There they were questioned over a three-day period during which they were repeatedly hit with an electric cattle prod, he said.
"It went on until I fainted," said Samten, adding that police repeatedly asked him to identify the dead nun.
After three days, they were taken by truck to a prison in Shigatse, Tibet's second-largest city, Samten said.The International Campaign for Tibet has more details, presumably from the same young refugee cited in the AP report. They refer to official Chinese statements to Western governments who had protested the incident, which claimed the children were treated well and released immediately. These statements also claimed that the shooting of unarmed Tibetans crossing the Nangpa La pass was a part of "normal border management." Apparently this is true in regards to Chinese border policy, as the ICT report includes new details of a similar incident one year earlier, in October 2005, from two Tibetan women who said their group was also fired upon, and that they were interrogated and beaten when captured.
They were questioned again while chained to a wall, he said. "A guard wearing a metal glove would hit us in the stomach," Samten said.
They were held there for 48 days during which they dug ditches, built fences and tilled fields, he said.
Samten said he was released alone but had heard from other Tibetans that the others were freed a day later.
After being turned over to members of his family by Chinese authorities he tried to escape Tibet again, this time successfully, paying two Nepalese men to smuggle him and two others over the border, he said.
The ICT report says that in the 2006 incident, approximately 13 of those captured by the troops were children under the age of 15, and these children were interrogated but not beaten or tortured. The others were treated to rubber batons and electric prods. Many Tibetan nuns who have been incarcerated for thought crimes in Tibet, have told of these cattle prods having been inserted into their bodies -- being raped by them. The Venerable Palden Gyatso, a monk who spent more than 30 years in Chinese prisons in Tibet (and now lives in exile) lost every one of his teeth, due to having such electric prods stuffed into his mouth.
After several days of such treatment at a detention centre in the Tibetan town of Dingri, near the Nepalese border, the group was taken by truck to a prison in the southwest of Shigatse (seat of the Panchen Lama at the Tashilunpo Monastery, who was kidnapped by Chinese officials at the age of six, and whose whereabouts are still unknown). ICT gives the name of this special prison, designed to hold Tibetans caught attempting escape and which opened in 2003, as the 'Snowland New Reception Center' (Tibetan facilities in Dharamsala and Kathmandu which provide services to refugees by the Tibetan Government in exile, are called Tibetan Refugee Reception Centers). Shortly after the Chinese opened the 'Snowland New Reception Center,' former inmates reported approximately 300 prisoners in detention, nearly all for the offence of attempting to reach freedom.
In the 2005 incident, ICT reports very similar treatment afforded to the would-be escapees, although their marksmanship wasn't as good:
One of the group, who is now in exile, told ICT: "The Chinese opened several rounds of gunfire on us. We thought they were just trying to scare us by shooting in the air. But then we realized the shooting was serious. Our group scattered and I have no idea about where the others are, maybe they went back where we had come from, or managed to escape. After continuous shooting for some time, many of us stopped running away and 23 of us were arrested by the Chinese soldiers." According to the same source, none of the Tibetans detained were injured by the shooting.And there was similar treatment given to those captured, as for those imprisoned last October:
According to the same sources, the group of Tibetans was handcuffed and taken into detention where they remained for several months. The males in the group, mainly monks, were particularly badly beaten by electric shock prods, according to the same account. One of the Tibetan women from the group said: "We were handcuffed one by one by the soldiers. I think there were about 20 of them, and more came. They were all carrying machine guns2 and walkie-talkies. Since the soldiers didn't bring enough [handcuffs], they tied some of our friends with rope and then took all of us to a place where they had parked their vehicles. We were loaded into the vehicles and taken to the army camp. We saw our guide and other monks later brought to the prison. When the soldiers were trying to catch us, the monks had tried to escape. We could see bruises all over their faces as a result of beatings when the soldiers caught up with them. We did not know where our guide was taken after that. We could see the view of the Nangpa Pass from the place where we were arrested."There is clearly a precedent for the outrage perpetrated by Chinese border patrols four months ago.
The Tibetans said that the women were badly beaten but not as much as the men, who were hit with electric-shock prods: "female inmates were mainly beaten with belts." Most of the group was held in detention for four months - for just over 13 days in Dingri, and then for the remaining period in Shigatse 'new' prison. One of the Tibetan women said: "We were treated like criminals. We were described as supporters of 'separatism'." She was fined 3000 yuan ($385) upon release.
My previous articles on the Nangpa La incident:
TIBETAN REFUGEES SHOT BY CHINESE TROOPS - AT LEAST ONE DEAD
TIBETAN SURVIVORS OF CHINESE ASSAULT REACH KATHMANDU
FIRST PHOTOS OF NANGPA LA ATROCITY
CHINA CLAIMS SELF-DEFENSE - NEW VIDEO PROVES OTHERWISE
TIBETAN FREEDOM: ONLY IN EXILE
NEW IMAGES FROM NANGPA LA; CALL FOR TESTIMONIES
TIBETAN REFUGEES REACH INDIA
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