By: Norbu Dolma
In March 1959, the Dalai Lama and around 80,000 Tibetans were forced to escape to India after China illegally entered Tibet in 1950.
Until 2007, a few thousand Tibetans used to flee to India every year because of Chinese repression.
Since 2008, the Chinese government has tightened their border security which has obstructed the escape of Tibetans into exile.
China’s vision of a world without human rights is on display in Tibet. Tibet remains one of the most sensitive issues in US-China relations.
Chinese officials have increased restrictions on the religious and cultural life of Tibetans.
At the same time, the Chinese government exports its authoritarianism abroad, pressuring foreign academic institutions who invite the Dalai Lama to speak on campus as well as businesses who mention his name or the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as a distinct region in China.
These issues-along with the question of future Dalai Lama’s succession, restricted access to the TAR and Tibetan Autonomous prefectures for diplomats and journalists, and China’s efforts to control water resources and expand its military presence on the Tibetan plateau–complicate human rights diplomacy.
Although human rights are limited across China, Tibetans are singled out for greater abuse because of their distinct identity.
And while China has long been known for its rights violations, conditions in Tibet are getting dramatically worse.
Tibet is now ranked the least-free country in the world – in 2020, tying in top spot with Syria and worse even than North Korea, according to the latest Freedom in the World report by Freedom House.
Under Chinese rule, Tibetans are persecuted simply for preserving their cultural identity and most basic rights.
They can be jailed and tortured just for having a photograph of the Dalai Lama. They also face immense restrictions on religion, travel and speaking freely.
China cracks down on human rights in Tibet through an intense system of control, including high-tech surveillance.
Chinese state media have said that China is presenting “a new way for world human rights development.”
Tibetan political prisoners, who were imprisoned just for asserting their right to practice their culture, religion and for resisting Chinese oppression, are facing extreme conditions in Chinese jails.
There are now more than 500 Tibetan political prisoners currently in detention, according to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
Tibetan political prisoners are being given electric shocks, attacked by dogs, subjected to sexual abuse, death in detention, unfair trials, and exposure to extreme cold as ‘common’ forms of torture.
The following recounts a few examples of the torture Tibetan political prisoners experience.
Golog Jigme was first arrested on 23 March 2008 following his involvement in a film project. He was released and rearrested two more times before finally escaping to India in 2014.
On his first day in prison he was hung from the ceiling, while two guards punched and kicked him to entertain themselves.
When it got dark, he was taken down and handcuffed to the chimney of a hot stove. His arms, chest and face burnt and blistered. He was then made to spend the night in a freezing cold room.
He was unable to sleep due to the burns on his body and the low temperature, which gave him a fever. The following day he was hung from the ceiling again.
Golog Jigme was also shackled to an iron chair in such a way that his legs and wrists bore his whole weight while his upper and lower body had nothing to lean against.
While he was in this position, electric shocks were administered to him and he was kicked in the head while the police interrogated him.
He estimates that he was tied to the chair for ten hours, with the exception of six intervals when he was removed from the chair and beaten on the floor.
He was also beaten on the back with metal sticks, kicked, and given electric shocks. At one point he was hung forwards from the chair, in a position that made him feel that his chest might split open, until, after two hours, an older policeman mentioned to the others present that putting someone in such a position for too long would kill them.
“The pain the chair caused was too extreme to feel any of the pain caused by the metal sticks and kicking. When they gave me electric shocks, I could feel nothing. I only smelt the burning of my own flesh,” Golog Jigme later said.
By the time of his release on 12 May 2008, some of his ribs were broken, he had dislocated a knee and his other joints were suffering badly. He also had scars on his wrists and ankles from the restraints and had sustained injuries to his spine, eyes, hands and feet.
Some of his toenails fell out.
While in detention he was only given small amounts of water, which affected him worse than usual due to the blood loss from his torture, and he was not granted access to a lawyer, doctor or any form of medical treatment.
Neither his family nor his monastery were informed of his whereabouts.
Tsering is a 38-year-old Tibetan woman from Lhasa. She is a former nun.
She escaped from Tibet to pursue studies in India in 2003.
In 2006, when she found out that her father was unwell, she decided to go back to Tibet to take care of him.
After two months with her parents she planned to return to India. Whilst trying to escape across the border from Tibet to India in 2006, Tsering was detained by border security along with five others including two children.
They were held in a border security facility.
For the first five days of her year-long detention, Tsering was kept in a small unlit cell without water or bedding; she was fed bread and tea twice a day.
She was interrogated numerous times.
During the interrogations she was beaten, slapped, kicked and shocked with the use of electric batons.
She would often lose consciousness as a result of torture. Tsering was accused of being a “slave” to the Dalai Lama and ‘spying’ for the Tibetan Government in Exile.
“Eventually I couldn’t feel the pain, I just wanted to die,” explained Tsering.
After five days Tsering was moved to a police detention centre where she was held for 25 days. Her cell was completely dark and airless and had a small hole in the door through which small amounts of food and a bucket for waste were passed.
The interrogations continued, although the beatings were less frequent.
Tsering was then taken to a re-education through labour camp.
She was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell where her left arm and left leg were shackled to the floor.
She had to go to the toilet, eat and sleep where she lay for four days. She was forced to do hard labour until she was hospitalised with kidney problems and water in the lungs.
A year after her initial detention, she was released. Chinese authorities often release detainees when they are in danger of dying in detention in order to manage statistics of deaths in detention.
Another Tibetan woman who wished to remain anonymous has also shared her story of torture.
She was stopped and arrested at a border checkpoint after trying to escape Tibet as part of a group of six people.
She was transferred to the county police detention centre, where she was locked alone in a cell with her arms and legs shackled. The cell was so small that only one person could fit in the room, and even then with little room to move around.
After several days she was moved to a labour re-education camp, where she was held for a year.
While there, she was locked in a cell in complete darkness for several days and had to carry out hard physical activities such as carrying bags of sand and stones almost every day.
During interrogations police would beat her with electric batons and belts. She lost consciousness several times, and on one occasion was beaten so badly that she lost all sensation in her body.
Even when she was lying on the floor she would be kicked and if she lost consciousness she would later find herself handcuffed in her cell.
On one occasion she was hung by her arms from the ceiling for an entire night. She believes she was only released after the camp authorities noticed that she was close to death.
The authorities summoned her relatives and made them sign a document guaranteeing that she would not get involved in any further activities that are against the law. A few years later she managed to escape to India.
In a nutshell, the condition of the political prisoners in the prisons or after release is worse than animals.
Chinese authorities do not value them as humans.
At any hour day or night they interrogate them.
Torture and death in detention have become a part of everyday life.
Even in the 21st century when different organisations and bodies such as the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International etc. are established to specifically monitor the rights of people around the world, this continues.
The time has come to act together, and raise voices in support of the victims of torture.