TORTURE AND IMPUNITY
29 CASES OF TIBETAN POLITICAL PRISONERS
TORTURE AND IMPUNITY
29 CASES OF TIBETAN POLITICAL PRISONERS
He “simply folded his hands and died.”
Sources from Tibet close to 43-year old Goshul Lobsang, who never recovered from injuries due to torture and malnourishment in prison and who died at home in March 2014, soon after his release.
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This report documents a pattern of torture and mistreatment of Tibetans through an investigation into cases of recently released prisoners, including details of 14 Tibetans who have died as a consequence. The report concludes that although the PRC officially prohibits torture, it has become endemic in Tibet, a result both of a political emphasis on ensuring ‘stability’ and a culture of impunity among officials, paramilitary troops and security personnel.
Since the unrest in 2008 and crackdown in Tibet, the Chinese authorities have adopted a harsher approach to suppressing dissent and there has been a significant spike in the number of Tibetan political prisoners taken in Tibetan areas of the PRC. There is also evidence that since 2008 torture has become more widespread and directed at a broader sector of society.
A younger generation of Tibetans is paying a high price with their lives for peaceful expression of views in a political climate in which almost any expression of Tibetan identity not directly sanctioned by the state can be characterized as ‘reactionary’ or ‘splittist’, and therefore ‘criminal’. But even despite the intensified dangers, Tibetans are continuing to take bold steps in asserting their national identity and defending their culture.
This report details specific cases of 29 Tibetans, of whom 14 died as a result of torture. The report also details the impact of imprisonment – whether extra-judicial, interrogation or a formal sentence – on the lives of Tibetan political prisoners released over the past two years whose ordeals have become known to the outside world, despite rigorous controls on information flow.
Despite Chinese official assertions that China’s legislative, administrative, and judicial departments have adopted measures against torture, there are no indications of investigations into allegations of torture and mistreatment, let alone into cases of Tibetans who have been subjected to arbitrary detentions. Financial aid or compensation for injuries suffered during detention is extremely rare. Provided there is an – albeit limited – debate about cases of torture in the PRC outside of Tibet, the complete silence on such cases in Tibet contributes to the discriminatory policies and the lawlessness persisting in Tibet.
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) is deeply concerned about the spike in political imprisonment and the widespread use of torture on Tibetans, in contravention of both Chinese and international law. Torture represents a serious violation of fundamental human rights, and its use must be prohibited, publicly condemned, with its victims compensated and those responsible brought to justice.
The use of torture has not only an immediate impact on its victims, but also on the entire Tibetan society. It deepens Tibetan resentment against state power and deepens the sense of oppression by the Chinese authorities. It appears to have become common knowledge among Tibetans that they will be subjected to torture when taken into custody, particularly after being involved in political protest. In August 2014, a young Tibetan committed suicide while under detention; according to sources, he killed himself in protest against the torture by the Chinese authorities.
For many Tibetans, it appears to be of utmost importance that accounts of torture and mistreatment are known outside Tibet. Before he died following torture and malnourishment in prison, 43-year old Goshul Lobsang expressed his wish for a blessing from the Dalai Lama, and also said that he wanted to let the outside world know about the lives of Tibetan political prisoners under Chinese oppression. He passed away in March 2014; Tibetan sources said that: “[At the end] he could not say anything, but simply folded his hands and died.”
The International Campaign for Tibet urges the People’s Republic of China to:
The International Campaign for Tibet urges the international community, concerned governments, parliaments and United Nations institutions:
The International Campaign for Tibet asks Chinese human rights activists, academics, journalist and other activists:
Lhasa’s unique and precious remaining cultural heritage, due to be discussed at the upcoming UNESCO meeting in Bahrain (opening June 24), is imperiled as China fails to uphold its responsibilities provided by the World Heritage Convention and UNESCO guidelines.
Since the iconic Potala Palace and other significant buildings were recognized as UNESCO World Heritage in 1994, 2000, and 2001, termed by UNESCO as the ‘Potala Palace Historic Ensemble’, dozens of historic buildings have been demolished in Tibet’s ancient capital and the cityscape transformed by rapid urbanisation and infrastructure construction in accordance with China’s strategic and economic objectives. Four months on from a major fire at the holy Jokhang Temple in the heart of the city, the Chinese government is still blocking access and information and may be covering up substantial damage with inappropriate repair work.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, at its upcoming session in Manama, Bahrain (June 24-July 4), is to vote on a draft decision which requests information about the state of conservation of the ‘Potala Palace Historic Ensemble’ and of its surroundings, the so- called “buffer zones”, “as soon as possible”. The draft decision also requests more detailed reports about the damage at the Jokhang temple and seeks an invitation for a ‘Reactive Monitoring Mission’ to assess the damage and repair work at the temple.
Bhuchung Tsering, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Lhasa – the name means ‘Place of the Gods’ – was the center of Tibetan Buddhism, a city of pilgrimage, a cosmopolitan locus of Tibetan civilization, language and culture. In a travesty of conservation, ancient buildings have been demolished and ‘reconstructed’ as fakes – characterized by China as ‘authentic replicas’ – and emblematic of the commercialization of Tibetan culture. The need for protection of Lhasa’s remaining heritage, particularly following the fire at the Jokhang Temple, is now urgent. The Tibetan people have a right to enjoyment and protection of their cultural heritage. The Chinese government is failing to uphold this right.”
“UNESCO must be vigilant in enforcing the World Heritage Convention and take serious measures for the protection of Lhasa’s remaining cultural heritage. As the United Nations body tasked with the protection of the world’s irreplaceable natural and cultural wonders, at the meeting in Bahrain the UNESCO World Heritage Committee must act in accordance with its mandate, and should seriously question the urban plans imposed by a government that has already destroyed many historic buildings. UNESCO should require the Chinese government to adopt an authentic conservation approach in order for the remaining fragments of old Lhasa to be preserved, based on a detailed plan to protect the historic Barkhor area and buildings in the ‘Potala Palace Historic Ensemble’.
“Importantly, the Committee and member states of the world’s leading heritage organisation should ensure urgent access for independent verification of the status of the unique and precious architecture of the Jokhang temple, and its statues and murals, with a view to ensuring that repair work is conducted under the supervision of accredited conservation experts.”
THIS INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR TIBET REPORT DETAILS THE FOLLOWING
- The Chinese government claims that it is developing Lhasa as a “green and harmonious city”, but images and urban plans included with this report convey the scale of new development and destruction since the historic center gained World Heritage status from 1994 onwards. Chinese officials say that “maintaining social stability”, a political term meaning the repression of any form of dissent, is a precondition for Lhasa’s development.
- Images included with this report show the massive expansion and transformation of Lhasa, including infrastructure projects with roads intended to be wide enough to serve as runways for military planes in line with the Chinese government’s focus on security and militarization, dramatic expansion of the new town near Lhasa’s main railway station and high rise development in the lower Toelung valley area.
- Dozens of historic buildings were demolished in the 10 years before the Jokhang Temple was listed under UNESCO in 2000, many of them with UNESCO World Heritage status. The ancient circumambulation route known as the Lingkor, which takes pilgrims around a number of holy sites in Lhasa, has been disrupted by often impassable new roads and Chinese buildings.
- After a major fire at the Jokhang Temple, the sacred heart of Lhasa, in February, China continues to suppress information about the extent of the damage and block Tibetans from circulating news. Active engagement or promotion of heritage issues by Tibetans in Lhasa today can be dangerous, given the political climate of total surveillance and hyper-securitization, in which peaceful expression of views about Tibetan culture, identity or religion can be criminalized. No foreign journalists or heritage experts have been allowed to visit Lhasa to ascertain the situation although the Chinese authorities acknowledged to UNESCO, a month after the event, that damage to the Jokhang is extensive.
- In a response to UNESCO late last year on the ‘Potala Palace Historic Ensemble’ in Lhasa, the Chinese authorities did not mention the key issue of preservation of historic buildings. And in its submissions on Lhasa, the World Heritage Committee too does not outline specific recommendations to protect the historic Barkhor and its surroundings. Almost all of the historic buildings of old Lhasa, once the center of Tibetan Buddhism and with a pivotal role in Tibetan civilization, have been destroyed and replaced by fake ‘Tibetan’-style architecture, which is completely at odds with its UNESCO World Heritage responsibilities. Official Chinese planning documents obtained by the International Campaign for Tibet confirm that this is set to continue with the remaining historic buildings, which number around 50 as new construction continues at a staggering rate.
- The acute threat to the integrity of the UNESCO World Heritage ‘Potala Palace Historic Ensemble’ is linked to a dramatic increase in Chinese domestic tourism and a rapidly expanding infrastructure in which Lhasa is a center of a new network of roads, railways and airports with dual military and civilian use, reflecting the region’s strategic significance to the Chinese government. Official planning documents reveal that development and tourism in the interests of the ideological imperative of “harmonious socialism” are the key priorities, with conservation scarcely mentioned.
2. NOTE ON METHODOLOGY
In this report, ICT sought to document (i) a range of cases where there was a clear correlation of death with torture, and (ii) Tibetan political prisoners whose cases are relatively well-known in Tibet and who have been released in 2013-14 and who have suffered from torture and mistreatment.
The report covers cases of 29 Tibetan political prisoners from 2008 – a year of widespread protest in Tibet – to 2014, primarily focusing on cases of individuals who have died as a result of torture between 2008 and 2014 or were released in 2013-14.
The report does not seek to be exhaustive or give a comprehensive account of all Tibetans who have died in custody or following imprisonment, nor does it seek to give a comprehensive picture of Tibetans released from prison and their sufferings.
A full and detailed accounting is not always possible given the tight controls on information flow by Chinese authorities and the dangers faced by Tibetans in passing along information to the outside world. Moreover, China does not allow independent nongovernmental organizations to freely conduct research or monitor human rights issues inside their borders. As a result, obtaining and verifying credible information presents great challenges.
This report documents the deaths of 14 Tibetans following varying periods of imprisonment, and details where possible information about their treatment in custody.
The cases listed in the report come from information gathered by ICT from sources inside and outside Tibet, and information published by Chinese state media and Tibetan exile media outlets and organizations.
3. THE NEED FOR SUPPORT – RELEASED TIBETAN POLITICAL PRISONERS
“One of his legs was cut with many bloody knife wounds and a nail had been driven in to a toenail on his right foot. A great deal of flesh had been cut away from his bottom, where the wound was rotting and infested with insects. Where his waist had been beaten with electric batons, the flesh had started to decay. There were many wounds on his back and on his face. One of the wounds was covered with transparent tape. Because he had not received any medical care, he was already on the verge of death.”
A Tibetan blogger writing in Chinese about twenty-eight year old Tibetan Tendar who died following severe torture.
While many more remain in prison for peaceful expression of their views, those Tibetans who are released cannot be said to experience freedom. Perceived by the authorities as a threat to the state, former Tibetan political prisoners face isolation, fear and anxiety, in addition to chronic health conditions, pain and trauma. Some do not survive, like 43-year old Goshul Lobsang, who never recovered from injuries due to torture and malnourishment in prison and died at home in March, 2014, soon after his release.
Former political prisoners are perceived by the authorities as a threat to the Party-state because of the views and actions that led to their sentencing. Additionally, many former political prisoners are oftentimes publicly welcomed and greeted upon their release and return to their respective communities. For example, Tashi Rabten, editor of banned literary magazine “Eastern Snow Mountain” (Tibetan: “Shar Dungri”), was sentenced on June 2, 2011, by the Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo). In an impressive display of solidarity, Tashi Rabten was met by hundreds of Tibetans bearing khatags in his home area upon his release from four years in prison in March 2014. As many other former political prisoners, Tashi Rabten has apparently become a rallying point for Tibetan solidarity and dissent.
The intention of the authorities is to control and isolate these former prisoners, and to create a visible deterrent to other Tibetans who may seek to express views that are counter to those of the Beijing leadership.
Many of the prisoners detailed in this report were detained after 2008. By keeping most of them in jail for the full length of their sentences, the Chinese state underlines its intent to crackdown on dissent.
4. ‘HE WAS A SHELL OF HIS FORMER SELF’: TORTURE OF TIBETAN PRISONERS
“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.
RELEASED PRISONERS: THE URGENT NEED FOR JUSTICE
LONG-SERVING POLITICAL PRISONERS RELEASED IN 2013
 The UN Convention Against Torture is an international human rights treaty under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment around the world. The Convention against Torture defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” (Art. 1). It may be “inflicted by or at the instigation of or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” International law also prohibits mistreatment that does not meet the definition of torture, either because less severe physical or mental pain is inflicted, or because the necessary purpose of the ill-treatment is not present. It affirms the right of every person not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured. The text of the Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and, following ratification by the 20th state party, it came into force on June 26, 1987;
 Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law, which took effect from January 1, 2013. incorporated into Chinese national law the requirement to exclude confessions obtained through torture. Association for the Prevention of Torture, January 13, 2013, http://www.apt.ch/en/news_on_prevention/china-banning-confessions-obtained-through-torture/#.VDVO_yldXvM;
 The prohibition against torture in international law as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is not limited to acts causing physical pain or injury. It includes acts that cause mental suffering, for instance through threats against family or loved ones.
 Numerous international agreements address a prisoner’s right to health, including the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/43/a43r173.htm), which stipulates that state authorities shall provide medical care and treatment to detainees “whenever necessary.” According to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, “sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals.” (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/criminal_justice/UN_Standard_Minimum_Rules_for_the_Treatment_of_Prisoners.pdf). According to analysis by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Chinese laws and rules provide for, but only give vague guidance regarding, releasing detainees to receive medical care. A CECC report states: “Article 65(3) of the PRC Criminal Procedure Law (Chinese, http://www.cecc.gov/resources/legal-provisions/criminal-procedure-law-of-the-peoples-republic-of-china) and Article 77(3) of the Security Agency Rules for Handling Criminal Cases provide for bail ‘guarantee pending further investigation’ for ‘those who have a serious illness and cannot care for themselves” if it does not “endanger society.’ (CECC report, April 2, 2014, http://www.cecc.gov/publications/commission-analysis/inadequate-medical-care-for-cao-shunli-before-her-death-contradicts);
 The Committee of the UN Convention against Torture recognized that China has yet to establish effective mechanisms to receive torture complaints, investigate them and prosecute and punish perpetrators. It has expressed concern about the absence of a uniform and effective investigation mechanism to examine allegations of torture. The Committee recommended that China ensure the prompt, thorough, effective and impartial investigation of all allegations of torture. Report by Human Rights in China, July 19, 2000, http://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4799;
 In some cases, compensation is given. In an example of the culture of impunity, a Tibetan man in his twenties was beaten to death by police in December, 2011, after he was stopped for driving a motorbike in the town of Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) in Gansu, eastern Tibet. The family was compensated with a large fee from the local authorities after strong representations were made by senior monks from Labrang Tashikyil monastery and people from the Tibetan’s village who traveled to Labrang following news of his death on the night of December 9. International Campaign for Tibet, December 15, 2011: “Tibetan beaten to death by police in Labrang”;
 China Internet Information Center, March 2001: “Law Assures Fight Against Torture in China”, http://www.china.org.cn/english/2001/Mar/8387.htm;
 Section 7, Article 54 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China: http://www.china.org.cn/english/government/207319.htm;
 If so, this would contravene a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1974 on Principles of Medical Ethics. While not legally binding on its own, the resolution recognized and emphasized a pre-existing rule of international law—that nobody is allowed to participate in torture. The resolution emphasized that medical professionals should not use their unique knowledge or position to facilitate torture. The full document is at: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/37/a37r194.htm;
 Radio Free Asia report in Tibetan, http://www.rfa.org/tibetan/otherprograms/newsanalysis/former-political-prisoner-norlha-died-in-lhasa-01092012110750.html;
 Radio Free Asia report in Tibetan, http://www.rfa.org/tibetan/otherprograms/newsanalysis/tibetan-political-prisoner-died-in-lhasa-hospital-03252011105923.html;
 The death was reported on Radio Free Asia in Tibetan: http://www.rfa.org/tibetan/sargyur/a-drepung-monastery-monk-dies-in-prison-09032009224931.html;
 The Tibetan exile website www.phayul.com recently reported the release from prison of a Tibetan political prisoner called Tsering Lhagon from Sog, Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) in the Tibet Autonomous Region, who was sentenced in the same case. Ngawang Tharpa, a Tibetan in exile with close contacts of the region, said that Tsering Lhagon had been released on March 23 (2014) after serving 15 years in prison. (Phayul.com, April 5, 2014, http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=34772&t=1);
 According to Tibetan sources, and a report in the exile Tibetan newspaper Tibet Post, http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/3493-monk-released-under-surveillance-after-eight-years-in-jail;
 TCHRD report, April 15, 2013, http://www.tchrd.org/2013/04/monk-hospitalized-another-has-lost-mental-stability-on-release-from-prison/;
 Radio Free Asia report, April 28, 2013, http://english.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/freed-05282013152809.html;
 Also see Radio Free Asia report, March 8, 2013, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/wounded-03082012170750.html;