TCHRD Campaign for Tibetan Political Prisoners : An Introduction

Source: Gunduz Agayev

“On 14 March 2010, some of the students at our school staged a protest carrying hand drawn Tibetan national flags made of cloth. They tried to take down the Chinese national flag hoisted in our school campus. Even the Tibetan teachers at the school took part in the protest.

There were four Chinese police officials in civilian clothing. They took me to the Machu County detention center. There was no arrest warrant. And it is very common for Tibetans to get arrested without a warrant.   

I was first taken to the Machu County Detention Centre where I was detained incommunicado for 20 days. During the detention, they slapped me and used electric batons all over my body when I refused to answer their questions. I remember losing consciousness numerous times after those beatings but they would always splash water on me so they could repeat the same horror. I was also strapped to a metal chair or “Tiger chair”; my wrists and feet tied and if I tried to move, it would become tighter worsening the pain. They confined me to that chair for about 5 to 6 times during my detention and it always happened at night.

For years, I didn’t share this story because when I was released from detention, it was August 2010. And the following month, I had to get my high school certificate so I could apply for college to pursue my studies. Speaking out at the time would have spoiled my chances of getting into college. So I had to be careful.

Once the Chinese authorities come to know that a Tibetan has shared information outside of Tibet, he/she will be immediately and arbitrarily arrested. For instance, I was working at my relative’s café when Tashi Rabten self-immolated in Machu County. At that time there were few Chinese police officers eating at the café and when they heard about the self-immolation, they immediately left without paying for the food. Later, I came to know that they had arrested 12 Tibetans after the self-immolation.

I remember a person from Machu named Tsering Dhondup who got arrested because the officials came to know that he shared the news of Tashi Rabten’s self-immolation with one of the organizations in the UK. He was detained for few months and was released in August this year.

After the detention, the Chinese government officials did not have a good impression of me and it was difficult to live there and because of that I chose to escape Tibet. I escaped to India and travelled mostly by foot, alone. I did not tell my family that I was fleeing into exile because if I had told them, they would not let me go.  So, I decided not to tell them. They only got to know only after I arrived here.”

Soepa, 27, provided the above testimony yesterday on 16 November to TCHRD. He was arrested on 27 July 2010 and held in secret detention for 20 days in Machu County, Tibet. At the time of his detention, he was a 20-year-old high school student. Unable to bear the oppressive conditions in his homeland, Soepa escaped and arrived as a refugee in India on 22 February 2017.

16 November was the International Day for Tolerance. Even as the world observed the Day, there are many like Soepa who become victims of authoritarian repression and intolerance for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Tibet continues to face fundamental problems of survival as a nationality with its own historical, political and cultural identity. More than six decades of rule by the party-state of the People’s Republic of China has unleashed a never-ending human rights calamity, resulting in the arbitrary detention, torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of known Tibetans without any accountability and responsibility. Through a combination of laws, policies and practices, devised and implemented by an authoritarian one-party state with little or no tolerance for dissent, diversity and freedom of conscience, Tibetans are reduced to second-class citizens in their own land, forced to live their lives in fear and imposed conformity.

The importance of tolerance, defined as  ‘respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human; fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief,’ in promoting universal human rights and peace has been enshrined in multiple national and international laws and conventions. Tolerance towards diverse peoples, practices, cultures, religions, and languages. It has been declared to be “not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement” in the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance (November 16th 1995).  Values of freedom and non-discrimination are only said to be possible through imbibing a tolerant attitude. It is, therefore, impossible to guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms in an intolerant society or state, which perpetuates discrimination, dehumanization, repression, and more often than not is violent towards a certain section of its population.

The Chinese state’s authoritarian intolerance became more manifest during the 19th Party Congress when president Xi Jinping reiterated that he was determined not to “allow any person, any organization, any political party, at any time, in any form, to separate any piece of Chinese territory from China”, a signal that there will be no change in the party’s hardline policy of rejecting and criminalising human rights including legitimate criticism, dissent, and grievances of marginalized and oppressed communities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs. More concerningly, the growing cult of personality around Xi has cemented long-held fears that the party is determined to exert its omnipotence in all spheres of life in Tibet and elsewhere in the PRC.

If anything, the last Party Congress has established beyond doubt that the brutal and oppressive policy in Tibet will continue to intensify regardless of the fact that it has led to mass surveillance, police crackdowns, arbitrary detentions and arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and a significant rise in the number of political prisoners. Victims of intolerance, Tibetans have faced persecution, actively, in their day-to-day lives. Tibetan language, culture and religion, are being subjected to systematic discrimination and destruction.

Every new generation of Tibetans has faced newer and tougher challenges in expressing their grievances and aspirations, which are not pre-approved by the party-state. They are targeted not just for their activities but for their ideas as well. The ‘crimes’ of these political prisoners range from carrying a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to holding protests against repressive policies; from relaying information abroad about human rights violations to refusing to fly the Chinese flag. Their legitimate actions and grievances are criminalized and when they are detained, they are denied legal representation and a fair trial or no trial at all.

Every year Tibetans from all walks of life and age groups – monks, writers, teachers, students, nomads, farmers, housewives, – are imprisoned for exercising their conscience. These political prisoners and other activists who remain under surveillance and subjected to wide ranging restrictions are at the forefront of challenging Chinese government repression, at the cost of their freedom, their families’ welfare, their own mental and physical health and quite often their own lives.

We recognise and honor the courage, conviction and sacrifices of all the known and unknown Tibetan political prisoners. Beginning today, TCHRD will highlight and share the stories of these exceptional individuals through personal testimonies, visuals and narratives as a way to commemorate their lives and works, and also to provide hope and inspiration to others.

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