Nepal’s apex court comes to Tibetan refugees’ aid

September 23rd, 2011 - 12:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Sep 23 (IANS) Nepal’s apex court has come to the aid of nearly two dozen Tibetan refugees who were arrested after fleeing Tibet to go to India, asking the Maoist government not to hand them over to the Chinese authorities till it resolved the dispute.

The Supreme Court said the 23 youngsters, who were arrested in Nepal earlier this month, should not be deported to China, after a Kathmandu-based human rights organisation filed a habeas corpus.

Judge Bharat Raj Upreti has ordered officials of Nepal’s home ministry and police to attend a hearing Sep 26 along with lawyer Indra Prasad Aryal.

Aryal filed a petition on behalf of HURON (Human Rights Organisation of Nepal), a Kathmandu-based rights group that has been fighting for the protection of Tibetan refugees’ rights for a long time.

The furore, coming at a time when new Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is attending the 66th UN General Assembly in New York where Nepal is anxious to create a good impression, caused the government to review its stand.

On Thursday evening, it quietly handed over the group to the UN refugee agency.

The group of Tibetans, including five women, were arrested in northern Nepal between Sep 11-13 after they had crossed over from Tibet with the aim of going to Dharamsala in northern India, the seat of exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan government in exile.

In the past, following a “gentlemen’s agreement”, Nepal handed over Tibetan refugees, found entering Nepal without valid travel documents, to the UN refugee agency that facilitated their journey forward.

However, with China increasing pressure on the tiny republic to prevent the exodus of Tibetans and deport them back to China, Nepal’s governments have been increasingly cracking down on the fleeing refugees, despite growing condemnation by rights organisations and Western governments.

After the Nepal government dawdled over handing over the 23 detained youths to the UN refugee agency, there were fears that it was preparing to send them back to Tibet where they are likely to face tough punishment.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet alleged the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu had written a letter to the government of Nepal, describing the issue as one of “cross border human trafficking” and seeking that the fugitives be released into Chinese custody for return to Tibet.

Campaigners started petitioning Bhattarai, seeking the release of the refugees.

“We are deeply concerned about the plight of the 23 Tibetan refugees,” the petition said.

“Their custody was based on the fact that it is an issue of ‘cross border human trafficking’…., the Chinese authorities have promised not to take any legal action against the youngsters but only educate them and charge the senior ones of being trafficking agents.

“We consider them to be genuine refugees, in custody for expressing their willingness to live in an environment where they can peacefully exercise their human rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. We call on you to secure their immediate and unconditional release to the UN refugee agency.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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