Machine gun fire in Tibet: exclusive video of police breaking up environmental protest

Monday, 21 October 2013

Rare footage of confrontation between security forces and Tibetan protesters

Free Tibet has obtained exclusive video of security forces responding with gunfire to a large-scale anti-mining protest in Tibet. A sequence of videos (1) filmed at Dzatoe county, central Tibet, on 16 August (2) shows the events immediately before security forces violently broke up the three-day demonstration, injuring at least 14.

The videos begin with hundreds of peaceful demonstrators sitting down at the mining site, where they had established a camp and erected posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping, quoting a speech he had made on protection of the environment. Police and paramilitary trucks arrive at the scene and paramilitary forces are seen deploying. Police film the protesters as many hold their thumbs up, a request for clemency in Tibet. The final video shows tensions rising with sounds of distress among the protesters and one picking up a stone as others shout “please leave us alone”, “they’re arresting people at the front” and “don’t fight back”. Moments later, the sound of automatic gunfire is heard amid screams from the crowd and the video ends.

Free Tibet has obtained still photographs of the ensuing events (3) in which security forces broke up the demonstration using tear gas and beatings, including the use of electric prods. It appears that the security forces were firing into the air. Fourteen protesters were confirmed to be hospitalised as a result of their injuries (photographs available, 3), with up to 40 injuries reported but unconfirmed.

The Tibetan who took the video told Free Tibet:

"Mining is commonplace in Tibet and Tibetans are facing the dilemmas caused by mining all the time. Journalists are not allowed to visit the mining areas and so mining issues are not covered in the news and media channels. In order to highlight the mining issue taking place in my home to the world community, I took these photos and videos of the Chinese military crackdown on the protesters, and I don't mind being arrested if they bring a spotlight on the issue of Chinese mining in Tibet."

The protests began in the county in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on 13 August as hundreds of Chinese workers arrived to start mining operations at sites on a mountain considered sacred. Hundreds of members of the local community converged on the sites and argued that the mine did not have a proper legal basis. They later erected the posters depicting Xi Jinping and quoting a speech in which he talked of the importance to future generations of protecting the environment. Chinese flags were flown above the posters as an indication to security forces that the protest was not to promote Tibetan nationalism (4).

Eight Tibetans were arrested at the scene. A local community leader Kaitsa Soldor, who was reported to be among the leaders of the protest, was also arrested but other Tibetans were able to get him away from the police. Security forces came later that day to his village to re-arrest him but the local community was able to prevent them.

The mountain on which the protest took place has religious significance for local Tibetans, who traditionally hold ceremonies there in August, putting up prayer flags. Mining has since resumed at the site (photos available, 5).

In July, before this demonstration took place, Tibetans were severely injured in Tawu, east Tibet, after security forces fired on a crowd gathered to celebrate the birthday of the Dalai Lama (6). Mining is a frequent cause of protests in Tibet, which has extensive reserves of resources such as gold, copper and molybdenum (7).

Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

“Tomorrow, 22 October, China faces a review of its human rights record at the United Nations [8]. This video is clear evidence that however much it tries to position itself as a responsible member of the world community, in Tibet its response to legitimate protest remains brutality and terror. By banning journalists and even the UN’s own human rights monitors from Tibet, China hopes it can keep a lid on its repression. The courageous individual who risked so much obtaining this footage and getting it to Free Tibet has shown that that strategy is doomed to fail.

“Every community has the right to determine how its land is used and environment protected. Tibetans have repeatedly challenged Chinese authorities over this fundamental issue but they are denied the rights to protect their land or to protest when it is threatened. Yet again, the occupying Chinese state has resorted to brutal violence to defend its exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources and its devastation of Tibet’s natural environment.”

The information in this release was sourced and confirmed by Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch.

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To obtain video or photographs, or for further information and comment, contact campaigns and media officer Alistair Currie:
E: alistair@freetibet.org
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605

Notes to editors

(1) See edited video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-6lQyzAi24. Original footage available from Free Tibet.

(2) Locations: Aathol, Chyiza and Zachen townships (Ch: Duo Xiang, Jie Zha Xiang and Zha Qing Xiang) in Dzatoe county (Ch: Zaduo), Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.

(3) Photographs from the protest can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157635099223268/

(4) Original press release: http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/pr/beating-tear-gas-and-electric-shocks-china-reacts-environmental-protest-tibet

(5) Photographs available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157635874379686/with/9931496463/

(6) Free Tibet press release 17 July 2013 http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/pr/tibetans-tortured-detention-following-shooting-dalai-lama-birthday-celebrations

(7) Thousands protest at mine in Tibet, May 2013 www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/thousands-tibetans-protest-mining-sacred-site : protester reported shot and killed at mine protest, 2010: http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/pr/25082010. Mining in Tibet is dominated by Chinese businesses and causes extensive environmental destruction. China estimates that there 80 million tonnes of copper in Tibet, 2,000 tonnes of gold and substantial deposits of lithium, molybdenum among other resources http://en.cgs.gov.cn/Activities/15754.htm ; http://www.defence.pk/forums/chinese-defence/159926-score-largest-copper-reserve-china-found-tibet.html

(8) China faces its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva on 22 October. All states face this review by their peers every four years approximately. The review will take the form of a session of oral questions by UN member states http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx