Torture in Tibet

Call on China to Stop Torture in Tibet

Torture is an everyday reality in Tibet.

Torture is used by China as a weapon against dissent, creating a climate of fear.

In 2008, the United Nations Committee Against Torture concluded that its use was "widespread" and "routine" across China and Tibet. In 2015, the Committee (CAT) is reviewing China's record on torture again. In collaboration with Tibet Watch and Tibetan political prisoner association Gu Chu Sum, Free Tibet has investigated torture in Tibet today and submitted our evidence to the Committee.

Our findings show that torture, abuse and degradation of Tibetan political prisoners continue in Chinese-occupied Tibet and that prisoners continue to be killed by torture and convicted as a result of confessions obtained by torture. 

I was hung by my shackles from an iron chair without any clothes and they tried all sorts of tortures while I was there, like beating my back with tiny metal sticks, kicking me and giving electric shocks to my mouth. 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 Gyatso, Tibetan torture survivor

The techniques of torture

Palden Gyatso was imprisoned and tortured over 33 years
Palden Gyatso was imprisoned and tortured over 33 years

Free Tibet has found that political prisoners in Tibet are subjected to a range of torture techniques and cruel and degrading treatment. These are further detailed in several case studies.

Former prisoners have regularly reported being beaten with electric batons, butts of guns and other heavy objects such as belts and metal bars during arrests, detention and interrogation sessions. There were also repeated cases of detainees being subjected to electric shocks during interrogations.

Some Tibetan prisoners have been hung from the ceiling for periods lasting several hours or locked in cells that were pitch black or were so small that they could not move around. Others have reported being shackled to a device known as an iron chair, which forces the detainee to bear their entire weight on their wrists and legs. One reported being repeatedly shackled to this device over the course of ten hours, until a senior prison guard intervened and warned his colleagues that if he spent any more time tied in this position it could kill him.

Prisoners are also subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. Several former prisoners reported being denied food and water, with one recalling that he and his fellow detainees had to drink water from a toilet. Prisoners have also been denied blankets and mattresses, despite the cold weather, or made to sit outside in freezing cold water. Access to political prisoners is tightly restricted, with access to doctors and lawyers regularly denied and family members regularly unaware of where the detainee is being held.

Deaths and disappearances

They said that however many people like me they killed, nobody would ever find out.

- Tenzin Namgyal, Tibetan torture survivor

Goshul Lobsang shortly before his death on release from prison, and before imprisonment
Goshul Lobsang shortly before his death on release from prison, and before imprisonment

Being detained in Tibet can be like disappearing from the face of the earth. Tibetans are often imprisoned after unfair trials and authorities do not provide information about why they have been arrested and where they are. Family members often do not know that their relatives have been detained, and those that do find out are not permitted to visit the prison.

Isolated from the world, Tibetan prisoners are at grave risk of torture and being killed in prison. In July this year, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, one of Tibet’s most high-profile political prisoners and a victim of torture, died suddenly in prison, 13 years into a twenty-two year sentence. Calls from international governments and organisations for medical parole had been ignored. Authorities then cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s remains against his family’s wishes. Authorities have also withheld bodies of other Tibetans that have died in custody, due to fears that the body will reveal evidence of mistreatment and the manner of their death. Families of deceased prisoners have also been threatened and told not to reveal any details of the death.

Torture and the law in China

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison in 2015
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison in 2015

Torture is forbidden under international law. The UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Chinese law 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, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Torture is also forbidden under Chinese law. China’s Criminal Procedure Law sets out a clear prohibition on the use of torture and Article 18 of this law explicitly describes torture as a “crime” that should be investigated.

Despite these obligations, in practice, Free Tibet has repeatedly found that torture of Tibetan prisoners continues while those responsible for it go unpunished. We have found no instance of any official being prosecuted for conducting or supporting torture in Tibet.

Torture and the United Nations

Free Tibet's director Eleanor and torture survivor Golog Jigme at the UN in 2015
Free Tibet's director Eleanor and torture survivor Golog Jigme at the UN in 2015

China is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and, like other signatories, its compliance with the convention is assessed approximately every five years by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, a body of independent human rights experts.

On 17 and 18 November 2015 China was reviewed by the Committee, which will review all the evidence and issue its final report in December 2015.  Since its last review in 2008, Chinese authorities claim to have tightened restrictions on torture with changes to their laws and continue to insist that torture in China is outlawed and that anyone found responsible is punished. However, the cases detailed in Torture in Tibet, the report by Free Tibet, Tibet Watch and Tibetan political prisoner organisation Gu-Chu-Sum, refute all of these claims, proving that torture is still ongoing (read the full report - submitted in February and November 2015 - on the Tibet Watch website).


Case studies

Hear four survivor testimonies, read by British actors Juliet Stevenson, Dominic West, Alan Rickman and David Threlfall. In most cases identities have been protected.

Read more case studies here, including written versions of the video testimonies as well as others included in our 2015 submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.



Stop Torture in Tibet: Juliet Stevenson reads Tsering's testimony (with Chinese subtitles)

What we are doing

At the United Nations

  • In February, we submitted our first dossier of evidence to the Committee Against Torture. CAT raised almost all of the issues and cases we identified directly with the Chinese government.
  • In October, we submitted further detailed evidence to CAT, as it prepared for its final review of China.
  • In November, Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren travelled to Geneva to meet with the committee.

With governments and international institutions

  • Free Tibet is raising cases of torture and prisoners at risk of torture with governments. A number of those cases have already been taken up by governments, who have demanded information and action from China.
  • We are pressuring governments to challenge China over torture, including in the "Human Rights dialogues" many of them conduct.

With the government of China

  • Our international petition to Chinese Minister of Justice Wu Aiying calls on China's government to fully implement the requirements of the UN Convention Against Torture and properly enforce its own laws.

With the public

  • Free Tibet will continue to keep its supporters and the public informed about torture in Tibet and any responses to the evidence we have presented from the Chinese Government. We encourage to supporters to take action with the petition to the Chinese Minister of Justice.

Related news: