DEATH IN DETENTION: China refuses to release body of former village head turned political prisoner to family members

Lobsang Yeshi, a former village head and father of eight children, died at the age of 64, at around 2 pm on 19 July 2015 in a hospital in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
Lobsang Yeshi, a former village head and father of eight children, died at the age of 64, at around 2 pm on 19 July 2015 in a hospital in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is deeply saddened and appalled by the death in detention of yet another political prisoner in Tibet. Of more immediate concern is the refusal by Chinese prison authorities to release the body of the deceased, and no death certificate has been issued or an autopsy done.

Lobsang Yeshi, a former village head and father of eight children, died at the age of 64, at around 2 pm on 19 July 2015 in a hospital in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). He was born and raised in Kewa Village of Thong Par Township in Tsawa Dzogang (Ch: Zogang) County, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR. He was the only provider for his family of 14 and had been the head of his village until his detention.

According to information received by TCHRD, Chinese officials have refused to hand over Lobsang Yeshi’s body to his siblings, relatives and friends. They were not even allowed to come near his body. Following repeated requests by his family members, Chinese authorities decided to allow one Tibetan monk to conduct prayers other rituals. They also decided to allow the deceased’s two siblings to be present during cremation.

Lobsang Yeshi, a former village head and father of eight children, died at the age of 64, at around 2 pm on 19 July 2015 in a hospital in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
Lobsang Yeshi, a former village head and father of eight children, died at the age of 64, at around 2 pm on 19 July 2015 in a hospital in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)

Lobsang Yeshi was detained on 12 May 2014, along with seven other Tibetans for holding peaceful demonstrations against China’s failure to account for the suicide protests by two other Tibetans – Phakpa Gyaltsen and Rigzin – on 7 May 2014 in Chamdo (Ch: Qamdo) Prefecture in Tibetan province of Kham.

Information coming from Tibetan sources contends that Lobsang Yeshi died due to excessive torture, maltreatment and negligence at Chushur Prison in Lhasa. Lobsang Yeshi’s prolonged detention in police custody during which he was subjected to excessive beatings and other forms of torture, had caused him physical and emotional harm. Sources say he suffered from bouts of nausea and dizziness, and prison officials had recently moved him to a hospital in Lhasa. He died less than two months after he was sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment in May 2015. His exact date of sentencing is not known. He was sentenced along with two of his inmates, Ngawang Tashi and Cholug Tenzin.

Lobsang Yeshi’s death closely follows the death in detention in the second week of July 2015 of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan lama from eastern Tibet who was serving life imprisonment at Chuangdong Prison near Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died on the 13th year of his life imprisonment fighting to prove his innocence. In the absence of any explanation from the Chinese authorities, like Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Lobsang Yeshi’s death will remain a mystery known only to the Chinese detention and prison officials.

Both Phakpa Gyaltsen and Rigzin had staged suicide protests against Chinese mining at the sacred Gyalmo Ngulchu (‘Salween’) River that runs through Lobsang Yeshi’s hometown in Thong Par. Both men stabbed themselves to death, with Rigzin’s protest also commemorating Phakpa Gyaltsen’s protest the day before in May 2014. Led by Lobsang Yeshi and other elderly Tibetans, on 9 and 10 May 2014, Tibetans, young and old of Thongpar Township in Tsawa Zogang County demonstrated against Chinese mining, as a result of which they were threatened with beatings and arrests by the security forces from Chamdo Prefecture and Tsawa Zogang County.

Sources say when the Prefecture and County level security officers failed to prevent Lobsang Yeshi and others from protesting despite threats, they allowed Tibetan protestors to return home that day. But on 12 May 2014, Lobsang Yeshi and seven other Tibetans were forcibly taken to Tsawa Zogang County, held in County Detention Centre for almost a year. During detention, they were to physical and psychological torture through repeated interrogation sessions accompanied by severe beatings and torture. They were later taken to Chamdo Prefecture where they remained in detention for about a month, following which they were taken to Chushur prison in Lhasa.

Lobsang Yeshi is survived by his eight children, two of whom live in India. He was well respected by local Tibetans as a leader of integrity, who dared to stand up for Tibetan rights and dignity.

The death in detention of Lobsang Yeshi, due to torture and negligence by the Chinese police, is a grave violation of both international law and Chinese law. Death due to inhumane treatment and torture is a strict violation of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, in which Article 5 states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The PRC has signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture committing to the protection of its citizens from torture and ill-treatment. Lobsang Yeshi’s death is a direct violation of Article 2(2) of the convention, that there is no exceptions or an accepted justification for torture regardless of the situation.

The PRC has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) but has yet to ratify it. The purpose of the ICCPR and other human rights treaties is to protect human dignity. It includes the right to life and the prohibition of arbitrary detention. Article 6 of ICCPR protects the right to one’s life, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Article 10 provides “all persons derived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person’’. Article 7 prohibits torture.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules of the treatment of prisoners prohibits the use of torture but also addresses the rights of the families in the case of a prisoner’s death within detention. Article 44 (1) states that if the case of the death of a prisoner, the director of the prison shall immediately inform the spouse or nearest relative.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions has noted, since there is a presumption of state responsibility due to the custodial setting and the government’s obligation to ensure and respect the right to life, the government has to affirmatively provide evidence to rebut the presumption of state responsibility. Without authentic evidence from the State to prove that it is not responsible for any unnatural death, the government has an obligation to provide reparations to the family of the deceased.

Chinese Prison Law stipulates that the family of a prisoner is entitled to be provided with a full medical appraisal after the death of a relative. Article 55 states that if the person dies of natural causes, the prison authorities must issue a medical appraisal. Family members have the right to raise their suspicions of the prison’s medical appraisal with the Chinese People’s Procuratorate. In cases where a prisoner dies of unnatural causes, the procuratorate shall immediately conduct examinations and make an appraisal on the cause of death.

The Chinese Prison Law does not set out parameters on how long investigations should last. This omission allows security forces discretionary use of power since the law does not require them to notify the family of the investigation’s findings.

TCHRD calls on the Chinese authorities to immediately release Lobsang Yeshi’s body to his siblings and relatives, if the cremation has not taken place yet. This will allow his family members to conduct Tibetan Buddhist funeral rituals. To mourn and grieve over the death of loved ones is a right that should be accorded to every one, including one’s opponents. Chinese government must stop excessive mining activities in Tibetan areas that harm the environment and its inhabitants. A good alternative to China’s current policy of prison and torture, is to give full recognition to the rights of Tibetans to express their legitimate grievances non-violently and work to address the problem at its root.

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