Published in Times of India, South Asia on August 5, 2011.
Editors' Note: Mr. Thinlay Lama was released on August 5 at approximately 8:00pm local time, thanks to the efforts of numerous individuals including a leading Nepali human rights organization
KATHMANDU: Ahead of the swearing in of the new prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamshala, police on Friday arrested the new representative of the Dalai Lama in Nepal for holding a press conference though it had no political overtones, simply seeking to urge for the protection of refugee rights and clarify matters.
Thiley Lama, volunteer coordinator of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office, was picked up for interrogation by police on Friday along with an aide, Jhampa Dhundup, soon after he had concluded his maiden press at a hotel in the capital.
The 55-year-old's arrest comes after Nepal's new communist-headed government began an unprecedented crackdown on Tibetans in the republic under pressure from the Chinese government, preventing even traditional rites observed by the community on the birthdays of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.
Thiley, who had clarified that his office was apolitical and was not against any "person, society or state", had asked Nepal's government to address the issues of all refugees uniformly in the new constitution and to allow the Tibetan diaspora to run businesses and obtain higher education. He had also asked the government to resume issuing the identity cards to Tibetans, acknowledging them as refugees with the right to stay in Nepal. Nepal stopped issuing the documents after 1998 due to Beijing's anger.
In 2005, ahead of staging an army-backed coup and seizing power, King Gyanendra had the office of the Dalai Lama in Kathmandu shut down to ensure Beijing's support for his attempt to rule the country. Despite the press conference being low-key, the dragon was bound to be stung by Thiley's reference to four treaties signed between Nepal and Tibet as two sovereign countries in 1645, 1789, 1792 and 1856. It is also bound to be angered by Thiley saying that on the basis of amicable relations with Tibet, earlier Nepali governments had given sanctuary to Tibetans forced to leave their countries as "political refugees". China says there are no Tibetan refugees, only illegal immigrants.
China's footprints in Nepal have increased since last month with the new Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Yang Houlan, assuming office. Yang has been unusually pro-active, meeting Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and the leaders of all political parties, reminding them of their commitment not to allow any anti-China activity in Nepal.
On Aug 8, Lobsang Sangay, the newly elected prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile will assume office in Dharamshala and China is watching the developments closely to formulate its next course of action.