BEIJING Chinese security forces fired indiscriminately on Tibetan protesters in 2008 and beat and kicked others until they lay motionless on the ground, a rights group said in a report citing witnesses to clashes in which the government claims it acted with restraint.
The Human Rights Watch report released today gives a detailed examination based on rare eyewitness accounts of Chinas crackdown on the broadest anti-government uprising the country has faced from Tibetans in nearly 50 years.
Riots started in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and then spread to communities across Chinas west.
Since the unrest, Beijing has sought to suppress accounts of rights abuses. It has flooded the region with troops, put Tibetans under tighter scrutiny, reduced the flow of international tourists and allowed in only a few foreign reporters under government escort.
Among the reports findings: Witnesses say on March 14, 2008, security forces in Lhasa opened fire on protesters near the Barkhor, the heart of the old city. They say that at several rallies, security forces also hit demonstrators with batons and rifle butts until they were no longer moving. As protests spread across the Tibetan plateau, security forces shot at secondary school students headed to a demonstration and at monks and civilians marching toward government buildings.
The 73-page report says security forces also tortured protesters and others during arrests and in detention by beating them and depriving them of food and sanitary conditions. It points out that hundreds of Tibetans arrested in the crackdown remain unaccounted for.
The Chinese government had no immediate comment. In the past, the government has blamed the riots on Tibetan separatists organized and instigated by supporters of the exiled Dalai Lama. The supporters have denied it.
The 2008 uprising started with several days of anti-government protests by Buddhist monks in Lhasa and then turned into riots, with Tibetans attacking Chinese-owned shops and homes. China has said 22 people died in the Lhasa riots. Overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have been killed in protests and the ensuing security crackdown.
To compile its account, New York-based Human Rights Watch said its researchers interviewed 203 Tibetan refugees and visitors outside China between March 2008 and April 2010.
Over the past two years, security forces acted in a way that is completely disproportionate to the actual threat to public order, said Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. The Chinese government could do something about it. This is not about their sovereignty in Tibet, this is about how their security forces behave.
The report investigates cases in which security forces shot at demonstrators in Lhasa and in the Tibetan areas of Aba and Ganzi in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
It cites a 24-year-old Tibetan woman who was near the Barkhor Square and said protesters roamed freely on March 14 until the afternoon, when troops showed up and opened fire.
When the soldiers showed up later, they threw tear gas. A gas canister hit my leg and I couldnt walk any more, the report quoted the woman as saying. Then there was indiscriminate shooting and we saw two people shot dead in front of us.
A 33-year-old monk from a monastery west of Lhasa said he was beaten with clubs and sticks by guards at detention facilities where he was held, and beaten again, with sand-filled rubber tubes, when sentenced to a year in a labor camp.