China's authorities have detained four Tibetan teenagers for over a month on suspicion of scribbling graffiti calling for Tibet's independence and the return of the Dalai Lama, a rights group said Wednesday.
A fifth boy was hospitalized with injuries stemming from beatings he suffered during detention, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.
Dozens of students were initially detained in early September after the graffiti appeared on walls of a middle school and a police station in Xiahe county, a heavily Tibetan area in western China's Gansu province.
All but seven were released after two days, the group said in a statement, and two 14-year-olds were released about Sept. 24 after their families paid a 4,000 yuan (US$530, EUR375) fine and were ordered confined to their villages, the group said.
A 15-year-old was taken to a hospital with possible head injuries resulting from beatings, and it was not clear if he would be returned to custody after treatment, according to International Campaign for Tibet. Four 15-year-olds remain in custody.
A man who answered the phone at the Xiahe county government office called the report "nonsense and rumor."
"No such thing happened," said the man, who refused to give his name but said he was a county employee.
Phones rang unanswered at the Xiahe public security bureau and detention center.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's traditional Buddhist leader, fled the Himalayan region for India in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains highly popular among Tibetans, despite persistent efforts to demonize him by Chinese authorities.
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.