“I cry not only for my son who died a tragic death, I cry even more for those sons who sons who are being tortured. As a mother, I can’t imagine the torments and suffering my son endured in prison.”
The mother of Tendar, a Tibetan man in his late twenties, who died as a result of torture after being detained trying to help an elderly monk.
Brutal torture has been consistently reported by Tibetan political prisoners since the earliest days of Communist Party rule in Tibet. Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan monk who was arrested in 1959 and spent 33 years in prison, was first tortured in 1960 when his arms were wrenched out of their sockets by a team of Chinese interrogators. He later lost all of his teeth after an electric cattle prod was activated inside his mouth.
But since 2008, there is evidence that torture has become more widespread and directed at a broader sector of society in the context of a deepening crackdown in Tibet. A number of detailed accounts, documenting extreme brutality while in detention, have emerged in the past five years.
Labrang Jigme, a Tibetan monk who was detained first in 2008, gave a rare video testimony, uploaded onto Youtube, of torture following the March, 2008 protests. Speaking on camera later, he gave an account that was chilling in its detail of his treatment, and consistent with other accounts received by ICT.
“I was put on a chair with my hands tied at the back. A young soldier pointed an automatic rifle at me and said in Chinese, “This is made to kill you, Ahlos [derogatory term used for Tibetans by some Chinese]. You make one move, and I will definitely shoot and kill you with this gun. I will throw your corpse in the trash and nobody will ever know.”
Later he was subjected to days of abuse: “They would hang me up for several hours with my hands tied to a rope… hanging from the ceiling and my feet above the ground. Then they would beat me on my face, chest, and back, with the full force of their fists. Finally, on one occasion, I had lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital. After I regained consciousness at the hospital, I was once again taken back to prison where they continued the practice of hanging me from the ceiling and beating me. As a result, I again lost conscious and then taken to the hospital a second time. Once I was beaten continuously for two days with nothing to eat nor a drop of water to drink. I suffered from pains on my abdomen and chest. The second time, I was unconscious for six days at the hospital, unable to open my eyes or speak a word.
“In the end, when I was on the verge of dying, they handed me over to my family. At my release, my captors lied to the provincial authorities by telling them that that they had not beaten me. Also, they lied to my family members by telling them that they had not beaten me; they also made me put down my thumbprint (as a signature) on a document that said that I was not tortured.”
Other known cases from 2008 involved two Tibetan men named Tendar and Paltsal Kyab. Tendar was shot by the police while attempting to intervene on behalf of an elderly monk they were beating, and was subsequently taken away and beaten repeatedly by teams of Chinese police, who used iron rods on him and burned his skin with cigarette butts. He later passed away. In the case of Paltsal Kyab, although officials said that he had died “of natural causes” while being held in custody, when the body was released to the family there were clear signs of torture and brutal beatings. His younger brother, who now lives in exile, told ICT that according to witnesses who saw his body, “The whole front of his body was completely bruised blue and covered with blisters from burns. His whole back was also covered in bruises, and there was not even a tiny spot of natural skin tone on his back and front torso. His arms were also severely bruised with clumps of hardened blood.”
A further report of torture comes from Golog Jigme, the Tibetan monk who helped Dhondup Wangchen film the documentary Leaving Fear Behind. He found himself pursued and harassed by the police in retaliation, and was eventually taken into police custody. Speaking with ICT after his daring escape from Tibet, Golog Jigme said that “[the authorities] had tried to torture me to death… The treatment we received in prison was underpinned by a determination to defeat our spirits. In prison, they were literally trying to kill me. They want to kill prisoners like me.”
Tibetan writer Kunsang Dolma gives an account of a detention of a relative under suspicion of involvement in protests in 2008 that is typical of many ‘disappearances’ and incidents of torture. “[My cousin’s son] was never formally charged with any crimes, did not receive a trial, and no explanation was given to his family about what was happening or when he would get out. The family didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. His family even thought it might be good if he were dead because death is better than torture. […]
“My cousin’s son was released six months after he disappeared. He came out a shell of the person he used to be. While in jail, he had been kept in a dark room where the police repeatedly questioned him about the identities of other people at the protest, to which he only answered that he wasn’t there and didn’t know who was. He […] was nearly dead from the brutality when he got out. When he left the jail, he saw sunlight for the first time since his capture, and he was amazed at the sight of the green grass outside. He was only seventeen years old.”
Some former prisoners report procedures such as medical injections that cause immense pain. Goshul Lobsang, who died in March 2014 following his release from custody, apparently received injections that caused immense pain. It is not known what these injections could have been but they may have been administered by medical personnel. Police also used sharp-pointed objects such as toothpicks to repeatedly pierce and penetrate into the tops of Goshul Lobsang’s finger nails and cuticles. This stabbing, applied with force and consistency, resulted in severe bleeding, swelling and pain making Goshul Lobsang unable to temporarily use his hands, according to a report by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
“I might lose this bony and haggard body…” – Tibetans who did not survive imprisonment
“I am an ordinary nomad who loves his people, so I am willing to do anything for my people. I might lose this bony and haggard body that has suffered brutal pain and torture inflicted out of sheer hatred, I still will not have any regrets. I have the desire to follow in the footsteps of martyrs who expressed everything through flaming fire, but I lack courage [to do such a thing].”
From the last note of Goshul Lobsang, who died following torture in March 2014
Since protests broke out across Tibet in March 2008, the Chinese government has sought to block information from reaching the outside world on the torture, disappearances and killings that have taken place across Tibet. Hereafter, this report details the deaths of 14 Tibetans in different areas of Tibet as a result of being subjected to excessive brutality in custody. They are not isolated incidents; other deaths following torture have occurred, but full details are often not known.