The faithful were stopped on the western border with India. They were headed to Buddhist temples in northeastern India. The crackdown stems from China’s threat after India’s president met Tibetan leaders in Nepal.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepali authorities have arrested 41 Tibetan pilgrims on the border with India. The group was travelling by bus to some of India’s most important Buddhist temples when it was stopped in Kailali, a district in western Nepal.
“The pilgrims did not have identity papers or passports,” police officer Rajendra Bista said. “We arrested them and took them to Kathmandu, to the Immigration Department, for further investigation and necessary legal action."
All those arrested, including the bus driver, are Tibetans. Their pilgrimage included stops in the cities of Varanasi, Kushinagar and Bodh Gaya, all located in northeastern India.
According to many analysts, the arrests appear to be a direct consequence of China’s warnings to Nepal following the visit of Indian President Pranab Mukharjee to the country.
During his trip, which took place between 2 and 4 November, the Indian leader met with the Dalai Lama and some Tibetan leaders, sparking Beijing’s ire. Chinese authorities reacted sharply, calling on Nepal for immediate reconfirmation of the 'One China policy’.
Fearing diplomatic repercussions, Nepali authorities sought to reassure Beijing, but the Chinese have not reduced the pressure, demanding assurances on the economic project "One Belt One Road".
Nepali authorities responded by increasing checks on Tibetan pilgrims. "Before our religious pilgrimages were permitted,” said Ken Tung Tashi, the driver of the bus on which the 41 detained pilgrims were travelling, “but since the start of discussions between Nepal and China, we have been under closer surveillance."
According to Prof Surendra K.C, a diplomatic and political analyst, "the low quality of the Nepali diplomacy has failed to dispel China’s doubts or restore mutual trust. As a result, Tibetan refugees and pilgrims have become the victims."
Buddhist leader Karma Lama appealed to Kathmandu "not to harm people of faith with its actions and make instead the necessary changes to allow pilgrimages."
A spokesman for the Nepali government tried to be reassuring, saying that "we do not want to put the faithful in the middle of the discussion between the two countries. We are on the side of religious freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.”