Tibetan Political Prisoners

Tibetan political prisoners endure harsh prison conditions, including torture, deprivation of food and sleep, and may suffer long periods in isolation cells. The majority of Tibetan political prisoners have been convicted of “crimes” relating to peaceful political activities, and for simply exercising their fundamental human rights.

Tibetans can be arrested for anything from sending message about the situation in Tibet to taking part in peaceful demonstrations. The official charges they face are often unknown or vague, for example “inciting splittism” or “endangering state security”. Some political prisoners are charged with crimes that are unrelated to their arrest and they are detained and tortured until they make a “confession”.

A recent U.S. State Department report (September 2011) states that many of the Tibetan monks and nuns in detention are subjected to “extrajudicial punishments, such as beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods”.

In 2005 Dr Manfred Nowak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, visited a number of prisons in Tibet and concluded that “torture remains widespread”. Dr Nowak made on-site inspections of Drapchi Prison and the then recently opened Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) Prison near Lhasa; he expressed particular concern over sanctions placed on Tibetan monks, including prohibitions on prayers and religious worship.

Torture remains widespread in Tibet and is used to send a clear signal to Tibetans that political dissent can have dangerous or even deadly consequences. Men, women and children are all know to have been subjected to torture. The prevalence of torture in Tibet is one of the symptoms of a political system that persecutes those seeking to express their human rights peacefully. Torture is also commonplace in detention centres and labour camps.

Severe abuse, beatings and torture inflicted by police and other security personnel are most common at the initial stage of detention, when the intention is to extract ‘confessions’ from detainees. Those being held in custody are particularly vulnerable as they are questioned without the presence of lawyers, are denied the right to silence and are frequently held incommunicado for long periods of time.

Torture methods known to be practiced in Tibet include: beatings, use of electric shock batons, submersion in pits of sewage, exposure to extreme heat or cold, deprivation of sleep, food or water, prolonged solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment, hard labour, harrassment by dogs and being hanged upside down. Prisoners close to death are released to the care of their families, in an attempt to disguise the true number of prisoners who die in custody.

Political prisoners are subjected to further abuse on their release. Deprived of their political rights, their movement is restricted and monks and nuns are not allowed to return to their monastery or nunnery. In poor physical and mental condition, with their status making it almost impossible to get a job, they are condemned to a life of extreme poverty.