Tibetan Monks interrupted Journalists’ Lhasa Tour

Tibetan Monks interrupted Journalists’ Lhasa Tour

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – After the mid-March violence and a subsequent government crackdown, the Chinese government invited international journalists to tour Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The reporters, from 19 media organizations including the U.S. Associated Press, Britain’s Financial Times and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, toured the Tibetan capital on a three-day trip press junket in Lhasa.  The purpose of the tour is to show foreign reporters the city is calm after recent anti-China protests, and to help sway international opinion on China’s crackdown and arrests in the aftermath of the riots.  It is first time foreign reporters had been allowed into Tibet since the unrest began two weeks ago.

According to the schedule, the reporters first went to a Tibetan medical clinic that had been attacked in the riot near the Jokhang Temple square in downtown Lhasa.  They were also shown the Yishion clothing store where five girls had been trapped and burned to death in an arson attack by the rioters, the torched buildings of the Lhasa No. 2 Middle School, and a smashed Bank of China outlet.  The reporters also allowed to visit local markets, shopping centers, the city’s relief station and interview government officials and injured police, said the Chinese information office official.

However, the tour at the sacred Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, was disrupted by outburst of a group of 30 monks in red robes shouting there was no religious freedom, and the Dalai Lama had been wrongly accused by China of responsibility for the rioting.  “Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!” yelled one young Buddhist monk, who then started crying, said an Associated Press correspondent in the tour.  Some journalists even said a monk complained that the government had planted fake monks in the monastery to talk to the media.

Government handlers shouted for the journalists to leave and tried to pull them away during the protest.  The protesting monks appeared to go back to their living quarters. There was no way of knowing immediately what happened to them.  Later, People’s Armed Police sealed off the area around Jokhang.  The only people allowed to enter are those who live in the narrow lines around the temple.

When some reporters attempted to break away from the group, Chinese officials followed them throughout Tibet.  Only furtive conversations with Tibetans were possible.  But the reporters were kept away from any potential hotspots, including the Ramoche monastery, where the violence started on March 14.

For more information, please see:

AP – Tibet Monks Disrupt Tour by Journalists – 27 March 2008

CNN – Monks protest upstages China’s PR tour – 27 March 2008

New York Times – Monks Protest During Press Tour of China – 27 March 2008

Wall Street Journal – Tour of Lhasa Shows, Wide Scope of Unrest – 27 March 2008

XinHua – Overseas journalists’ Lhasa tour interrupted, resumes soon – 28 March 2008

Clashes Between Iraqi Forces and Shiite Militias Leave 50 Dead

By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East Desk

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On March 25, heavy fighting broke out across Baghdad and Basra as the US-backed Iraqi military mounted a large operation against Shiite militias.  The operation is an attempt to break the militia’s control over Basra, the largest oil hub in Iraq.  There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla.  Overall, at least 50 people were killed.

Among the Iraqi military’s targets were members of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, further risking the breakdown of the ceasefire imposed by Sadr over the organization last summer.  The ceasefire has been credited as a major source for the decreased violence in Iraq.  Intermittent clashes were reported in Basra beginning early on March 25 in the neighborhoods of Hayania, Jubaila and Jumhuria – known Sadr strongholds.

In response to the violence, Sadr’s followers mounted a civil disobedience campaign across Baghdad, demanding the release of Sadr’s followers from detention centers.  They also demanded an end to Iraqi government raids.

Sadr’s leaders ordered stores to be closed and for taxi and bus drivers to stop working.  Neighborhoods usually bustling with activity became virtual ghost towns, with many streets all but empty.  In a statement, Sadr called upon Iraqis to stage sit-ins and threatened a nationwide “civil revolt” if US and Iraqi forces continue attacking and arresting his followers.

Iraqi officials said the operation was aimed at “all those who point their guns at the state,” but Sadr’s followers say the offensive was politically-motivated and aimed specifically at them for their stances against the US occupation.

The Sadrists said if the operation was an attempt to improve security, they would fully cooperate with the government’s attempt to restore order.  The Sadrists added that while they don’t seek a confrontation with the Iraqi government, the people had the right to defend themselves when they are being attacked.

While Moqtada Sadr renewed the six-month ceasefire last month, he recently told his supporters that they were free to defend themselves against government attacks.

For more information, please see:
New York Times – Iraqi Crackdown on Shiite Forces Sets Off Fighting – 26 March 2008

Al Jazeera – Iraq Battles Spread Beyond Basra – 25 March 2008

CNN – Peaceful Iraq Protests Spark Clashes; 50 Reported Dead – 25 March 2008

Middle East Times – Basra Battles Rage and Spread in Iraq – 25 March 2008

U.S. News and World Report – Clashes in Iraq’s No. 2 City May Trigger Violence Elsewhere – 25 March 2008

Washington Post – Iraqi Forces Battle Gunmen in Basra – 25 March 2008

BRIEF: A National Action Plan for Human Rights in Kazakhstan

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – The Kazakh government has formed a working group to fully develop a National Action Plan on human rights for 2008-2011, and it met for the first time today.  The group will consist of rights experts from government and public human rights institutes across the country.

According to Yerlan Karin, the head Internal policy department of the Presidential Administration, “Kazakhstan has ratified a number of international documents in the sphere of human rights. Several international regulatory acts are planned to be ratified as well. The work of the state bodies in this direction is among priority ones in the activity of all state bodies.”

Kazakhstan’s human rights record has been in the spotlight often, especially since the country was named chair-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in November 2007.  Many human rights organizations criticized the appointment, claiming that it undermined the integrity of the OSCE’s human rights principles because Kazakhstan does not meet its own human rights obligations.  Some of the criticisms state that Kazakhstan has not held a fair election, its media is dominated by loyalists, and libel is still a criminal defense often used against independent journalists.

The Kazakh government states that it has been attempting to make changes, but human rights critics claim that they do not see results and they watch the country closely.  For that reason, the National Action Plan developed by today’s working group will likely be widely critiqued and regularly monitored.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Kazakhstan: OSCE Chairmanship Undeserved – 30 November 2007

Kazinform – National Action Plan in the field of human rights for 2008-2011 discussed in Astana – 26 March 2008

Palestinian Factions Clash in Southern Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

SIDON, Lebanon – On March 20, clashes broke out between Fatah security and militant factions in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon.  Tensions rose when members of Fatah arrested Samir Maarouf, a commander in Jund al-Sham, and handed him over to the Lebanese army.  Maarouf is wanted by Lebanon for crimes relating to violence and terrorism, including charges of planting a bomb in a Fatah official’s house in the camp.

Members of Jund al-Sham opened fired on Fatah offices located inside the camp immediately following Maarouf’s arrest.  The two sides launched rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged gunfire.  Fighting continued late into the evening.  Fighting resumed on March 21, when a grenade was thrown into the house of a senior Fatah official.  While there were no causalities, the building suffered severe damage.

Fatah reports that one of its members was killed and four wounded during the two day clash.  The violence caused hundreds of civilians to flee and seek shelter in the nearby city of Sidon.  While a ceasefire was declared on March 22, many feared that the violence has not ended and did not immediately return to the camp.

According to Fatah officials, a ceasefire was brokered after Osbat al-Ansar, another Islamic group, intervened and acted as a mediator.  The terms of the ceasefire require that members of Jund al-Sham leave the camp.  Fatah and Lebanese officials feared that these clashes would escalate and result in a conflict similar to that of the Nahr al-Bared camp, which involved three months of fighting between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants.

Like many of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Ein al-Hilweh is under Palestinian jurisdiction and the Lebanese army and law enforcement officers are prohibited from entering.  Jund al-Sham denounced Maarouf’s arrest as improper and being “an arrangement involving non-Palestinians.”

Mounir al-Maqdah, the commander of Fatah’s armed wing, countered by stating that “Maarouf’s  activities went beyond the camp’s limits and he is wanted by the Lebanese authorities for his involvement in several security files as well as planning to plant a bomb in the  home of a senior Fatah official.”  Maqdah added that “any security matter within the camp is the business of the Lebanese-Palestinian Follow-up Committee and the joint Palestinian Armed Forces.”

Jund al-Sham is a radical militant organization comprising of about 50 members.  It is a splinter group from another Palestinian extremist group, Asbat al-Ansar, based in Ein el-Hilweh.  The group has claimed responsibility for several bombings and violent gun battles throughout Lebanon and Syria.  The group fought against the Lebanese army during its conflict with militants in the Nahr al-Bared camp.

For more information, please see:
Al Arabiya News Channel – Heavy Fighting Erupts in Lebanon Refugee Camp – 22 March 2008

The Daily Star – Hundreds Flee as Ain al-Hilweh Factions Clash – 22 March 2008

Naharnet – Fatah-Jund al-Sham Fight it Out in Ein al-Hilweh, Casualties – 22 March 2008

Ya Libnan – Ceasefire Ends Clash in Southern Lebanon Camp – 22 March 2008

BBC – Factions Fight in Lebanese Camp – 21 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Islamic Militants Clash with Fatah Guerrillas in Refugee Camp in Southern Lebanon – 21 March 2008

BRIEF: Child Refugees from Afghanistan at Risk

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan children fleeing their war-torn home country are facing danger as they make their way through Iran and Eastern European countries.  Many of these children’s parents have paid smugglers to bring them to a safe country, and as they travel alone they are being preyed upon by traffickers.

This is particularly a problem in the port city of Petras, Greece, where many of these children are camped hoping to sneak on to ferries going to Western Europe.  Recently, police in Petras raided one of these camps; the children living there scattered across the city, causing them to become even more vulnerable to trafficking.  The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees has called the situation in Petras a “humanitarian crisis” and the UN office in Greece has asked for immediate support for the children.  Authorities in Petras refuse to offer assistance to the children because they fear that the city will become an even larger magnet for refugees.

The Afghan government has been criticized recently for its inability to address human rights in its country.  Because it cannot protect these children in Afghanistan, they are fleeing to other countries and facing many dangers along the way.

For more information, please see:

Impunity Watch – Impunity in Afghanistan: UN Statement – 19 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Afghanistan’s youngest migrants adrift on the road to asylum – 24 March 2008