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Tibetan Film-Maker in Hospital After Injuries in Police Detention

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Qiao Long  |  Radio Free Asia

Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden in the Beijing Film Academy Theater (wikimedia)

An award-winning Tibetan film-maker is receiving treatment in a hospital in the western Chinese city of Xining after “suffering serious injury” while in police detention, an industry association said on Wednesday.

Pema Tseden, who directed the films “Tharlo” and “Old Dog,” was sent to hospital after being detained at a local airport in what police said was a dispute over baggage, the Film Directors’ Guild of China said via social media.

“He was badly hurt in the course of his detention,” it said.

“We call on the relevant authorities to quickly respond to the association’s concern, and make public the whole story of this incident, including the reason for police taking forceful measures,” the guild said.

Beijing-based documentary film-maker Hao Jian said Pema Tseden remains in police custody, and hit out at police for “overreacting.”

“The police overreacted, and of course we can’t rule out the possibility that Pema Tseden also overreacted,” Hao said. “But I don’t think that is likely, because I know him very well.”

“I suspect that the police were on high alert because he is Tibetan, and they are over-sensitive and over-suspicious [where Tibetans are concerned],” he said.

Hao said Pema Tseden is a former student of his at the Beijing Film Institute, and remains a close friend.

“He was detained after he went back to try to get his luggage, which he had forgotten,” Hao said. “He remains in police custody, under detention, even though he is receiving treatment in hospital.”

He said Pema Tseden would likely face detention of five days, possibly referring to a short-term administrative sentence for perceived “trouble-makers” which can be handed down by police without a trial.

Xining’s municipal police department said in a statement on its official microblog account that the film-maker had gotten into a dispute with security guards after trying to return to the luggage reclaim hall having forgotten an item.

“He was then detained, but as he refused to cooperate he ended up with bruises from the handcuffs,” the statement said.

Pema Tseden was taken to hospital on Monday morning after complaining of dizziness and tightness in his chest, and was briefly hospitalized for high blood pressure and blood sugar levels, it said.

“His rights were protected at all times,” the police statement said.

Propensity to abuse Tibetans

Pema Tseden’s detention comes after a public outcry over the death in custody of environmentalist Lei Yang, following his detention by police in Changping, a suburb of Beijing in May.

Beijing’s state prosecutor has indicted five police officers for “dereliction of duty” in connection with Lei’s death, Chinese media reported on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the London-based campaign group Free Tibet said Pema Tseden’s relative celebrity may not protect him.

“Pema Tseden … is just as vulnerable as every other Tibetan to police brutality and being treated as a second class citizen in his own country,” director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said in a statement on Wednesday. “The police know that they can beat, abuse and detain Tibetans at will and with almost total impunity.”

“What’s happened to Pema Tseden can and does happen anywhere and any time to Tibetans in Tibet,” she said, calling on the authorities to ensure that Pema Tseden receives the medical treatment he needs, and pursue those responsible for his abuse.

“Abuse and discrimination against Tibetans is embedded in the culture of China’s security forces and this deplorable incident will only have further fueled Tibetan anger against Chinese rule,” Byrne-Rosengren said.

Sources inside Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan Service there was anger because “Chinese authorities did not report on the incident until June 29, when they announced that he was detained for violation of airport rules and will be detained for five days and then will be released.”

“The social media in Tibet is overwhelmed with concern about the detention of Pema Tseden,” a second source in the region told RFA.

Pema Tseden is the first director to make films entirely in the Tibetan language, but his award-winning work is generally not critical of Chinese rule in the region.

China, which took control of Tibet in 1950, is accused by rights groups and exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of trying to stamp out religious freedom and culture in the Himalayan region, which remains under tight military and police control after a string of popular uprisings and more than 140 self-immolation protests by Tibetans in recent years.

Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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