Tibet `lied over prisoners'

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A EUROPEAN Union fact-finding mission to Tibet to investigate the plight of political prisoners had the wool pulled over its eyes when it visited Tibet's largest prison, Drapchi in Lhasa, last month. The 10- day tour was part of the EU "human rights dialogue" with China.

Three days before it arrived, during a Chinese flag raising ceremony, several inmates began shouting anti-Chinese slogans. A number of demonstrators were beaten so violently that one subsequently died. However the three Beijing-based ambassadors were "not aware" of any disturbance, according to a British Foreign Office report published last week.

There are reports that a second demonstration took place on 4 May, the day of the diplomats' visit. It is unclear whether this occurred at Drapchi itself or elsewhere. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamasala, India, alleges that the Chinese authorities opened fire on prisoners. But although they were "unusually" briefed outside the prison gates, states the report, the atmosphere was "calm".

There is concern that human rights delegations which visit Tibetan prisons can put the prisoners lives at risk. "We have seen over the years a pattern whereby delegations create problems for the inmates and don't get to see beyond what has been cleaned up by the prison authorities," said a spokesperson for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Chinese authorities issue written guidelines on how to manage official visits to prisons. Gerd Poppe, one of a group of German parliamentarians who went to Drapchi last year, described their visit as, "totally set up".