Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] demanded [press release] Thursday that China release Tibetan [BBC backgrounder] prisoners that were captured while travelling and are now being forced into political re-education camps. The exact number of those detained is not known, but it is thought to be several hundred. Those detained had gone to India to hear the teachings of the Dalai Lama [official website] with valid travel documents, only to be captured upon their return. HRW called the arrest of properly documented travelers "unprecedented" and noted that this is the first known widespread detention of laypeople since 1970. Sophie Richardson [HRW profile], China director at HRW, said in a statement:
Arbitrarily detaining people and forcing them to undergo political indoctrination is an abuse of Chinese and international laws. [...] Authorities in the region should release these individuals, as their detention only escalates the tension in Tibetan regions which already have increased limits on travel and communication as well as troop and security presence.The report notes further that the ethnic Chinese who attended the Dalai Lama's teachings were not detained, which suggests the detentions were motivated purely by ethnicity.
China has long imposed strict restrictions on Tibet. In November 2011, the UN formally expressed concern over China's treatment of Tibet. That June, concern over an influc of missing persons prompted a UN rights body to demand a report on disappearances. The same month, the US requested China release peaceful protesters arrested in Tiananmen Square. In July of 2010, HRW published a report alleging China violated international law [JURIST reports] in its treatment of Tibetan protesters. Secrecy in China's judicial system [JURIST comment] often raises human rights concerns [JURIST news archive] over prisoners being held there.