The police told violinist Inge Hermans “there was no democracy” in Belgium while Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, was visiting, as they hauled her off to detention.
“The rules had changed for the occasion,” she said.
Ms. Hermans, a musician at the Anvers Opera and President of Belgium’s chapter of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and a dozen others were locked up for hours in a “cold, damp cell” while Xi, the paramount leader of China, was speaking in Bruges on April 1.
“They treated us like criminals,” said Ms. Hermans in a statement published on Save Tibet’s website.
“We had to stay spread-eagled against the wall. They confiscated our stuff and started to search our bodies. After a while the three of us had to step into the back of the police truck, they locked the doors twice, we didn’t get any explanation whatsoever.”
Police took Hermans and her Belgian companions to a police station, where she said their belongings were taken and they were questioned. “I even had to take off my bra. They checked our ID, wallets, everything.”
EU Policy Director of ICT, Vincent Metten, issued a statement in response to the Bruges event: “The Chinese government should not be allowed to export their repressive measures against freedom of assembly and speech to Belgium. Everywhere he has travelled in Europe, Xi Jinping has been met by Tibetans peacefully protesting the oppression in their homeland.”
The venue and surrounding areas were sanitized for Xi’s visit. No window signs or banners were allowed by police, said a Belgian journalist who reported that the police chief told him, “The orders were clear: that President Xi should not see or hear any Tibetan protest.”
At least 13 Tibetans were also detained as they were walking to the protest area or were near a location where Xi was to speak.
Tibetan Nyima Karma was on his way to the venue with friends when they were stopped by about 20 police who asked if they were Chinese or Tibetans.
“We answered that we are Tibetans. The police told us we were not allowed to enter the square, only Chinese allowed. We replied that we are on our way to a demonstration in the park and we had permission to demonstrate. The police said they knew nothing about that and that we had to come with them,” he told ICT. He said they were locked in a police van, but Chinese were allowed to pass. Though they repeated that they had permission to protest, they were detained at the police station until Xi left the city.
“I was so shocked,” explained Yeshi Wangma, another Tibetan who was detained. “I didn’t break any rules here, I was simply on the way to the protest as I’m a resident of this city. All the time, the important politicians talk about human values, freedom of speech, freedom of travelling, the importance of human rights and democracy, but still they detained me for some time.”
A Tibetan protester inside the venue shouted that Xi should talk to the Dalai Lama, and was wrestled to the ground by police. A plainclothes policeman tried unsuccessfully to silence him by gagging him with tissue paper, but he was still shouting as police hauled him away. Several European human rights organizations documented violations of human rights during Xi’s visit to Bruges: Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH), Ligue des droits de l’Homme Belgique (LDH), The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Lungta Association Belgium. The organizations stated that they intend to pursue the matter through legal channels.