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Authorities urged to refrain from using excessive force against protesters

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, January 27, 2012 – The Chinese government should immediately investigate shootings of Tibetan protesters by security forces, open Tibetan areas to international observers, and engage with representatives of the Tibetan community to address grievances and growing violence, Human Rights Watch said today.

Chinese security forces opened fire on protesters on January 23 and 24, killing at least two people and injuring several dozen more. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, confirmed that one protester, Norpa Yonten, was killed on January 23, after protests erupted in Luhuo Town (Draggo or Drango in Tibetan), and a second was killed after police opened fire in Seda Town (Serta in Tibetan) during protests on January 24. Both towns are in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous prefecture (Kardze in Tibetan) in Sichuan province, where tensions have been building following a growing number of protests and self-immolations there and in surrounding areas in recent months. Due to tight security imposed on the region, details of the sequence of events and nature of the protests, as well as the number of people wounded or detained, are difficult to verify. Some Tibetan exile groups report there may have been up to eight other deaths in the Luhuo and Seda incidents.

“In the current very volatile situation, it is especially important for Chinese forces to refrain from using disproportionate force,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Measures that violate human rights and reinforce the population's grievances won't achieve China's goal of 'restoring order;' however, they will aggravate and prolong the tragic cycle of violence that is taking hold.”

Protests have called for an end to religious repression, greater freedom, and the return of the Dalai Lama. Some Tibetans in these areas have refrained from participating in Lunar New Year celebrations out of respect for protestors who have set themselves on fire.

Xinhua reported that force was used in self-defense and to restore order in Luhou after a crowd “wielding knives and hurling stones. . .attacked a police station” and in Seda “after efforts involving persuasion and non-lethal weapon defense failed to disperse the mob,” and stated that 14 police were injured in the Seda incident. Tibetan sources in exile dispute these accounts. Even if protests devolve into violence, international law limits the use of force by states to that which is strictly necessary in order to protect life or to apprehend perpetrators of violent crimes.

Human Rights Watch said that the number of protests across the region appears to be rising rapidly, with other incidents reported this week in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, which have large Tibetan populations. A protest involving an estimated 700 Tibetans took place following the latest self-immolation, that of Lobsang Jamyang, a former monk from Andou monastery (Andu in Tibetan) in Aba (Ngaba in Tibetan) in Sichuan Province, on January 14, 2012.

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