Nepal’s once tourist friendly reputation took another dive recently when police armed police in Kathmandu, the nation’s capital, arrested an American and Canadian tourist for wearing a jacket that had ‘Team Tibet’ printed on the back. Ngodup Tsering, a Tibetan American and his Canadian friend were walking near a temple on March 19, 2014, when a dozen Nepalese security forces stopped them and took them in a vehicle to a police station where they were questioned for several hours. The two tourists were reportedly told that the words, ‘Team Tibet’ were illegal in Nepal, and after checking their passports and confirming which hotel they were staying in, the two tourists were released.
The incidence appears to be a confirmation of a recent report from Human rights Watch that cited Nepal for putting restrictions and pressure on Tibetans living in the country due to due pressure from China. For the millions of tourists who’ve visited Nepal, drawn to the country for its proximity to Tibet and Tibetan culture over the last five decades, the arrest of tourists for wearing a ‘Team Tibet’ jacket will appear particularly bizarre and troublesome since the markets of Kathmandu had always been flowing with ‘Free Tibet’ T-shirts, embroidered and printed by Nepalese businesses.
Some in Nepal are becoming concerned that China’s growing aid to Nepal comes with too many strings, and that Chinese political influence and security imperatives will lead to an erosion of freedoms and cultural values in Nepal. But for the moment, as long as the targets of China driven pressure remain Tibetans and not Nepalese citizens, the lure of Beijing’s largesse will probably be too hard to resist for things to change.
However as more and more tourists, climbers and Western Buddhists learn that wearing a jacket printed with the words, ‘Team Tibet,’ can land them in prison, there may be a rapid decline in Nepal’s lure as a tourist destination.