TIBET'S HIDDEN PRISONERS
“When the black cloth was taken off my head, I found myself in a big room with […] all sorts of torture devices laid out in front of me. They told me to have a look at these devices and I told myself that I was doomed to being beaten that day” - former prisoner and torture survivor Golog Jigme
Imagine being snatched from the street or even your home. You are loaded into a police car and driven to an unknown location. Your friends, colleagues and family don’t know where you are. Nor do you. It is like you have disappeared from the face of the earth.
You don’t know why you are being held, you don’t know what your captors want from you. They may have something that they want you to confess. They may have decided you have committed a crime.
For scores of Tibetans, this situation is not just some horror film, it is a horrifying reality. Whether they have protested to resist the occupation, written a blog post that the authorities disapproved of, or even just flown their own flag, Tibetans have been taken away, detained without charge, tortured and sentenced to long prison sentences after secret or sham trials.
Enforced disappearances are designed to punish Tibetans who resist or fall foul of the occupation, and to scare other Tibetans away from opposing the occupation or freely expressing their culture. Free Tibet is standing alongside Tibet’s hidden prisoners. We want to find the prisoners that China has tried to hide, shine a light on their cases, and raise pressure for their release.
Prisoners in the dark
"They said that however many people like me they killed, nobody would ever find out" - Tenzin Namgyal, Tibetan torture survivor
Tibet is one of the most closed countries on earth. Whether it is people or news, China tries to dictate what gets in and what gets out. The blackest of Tibet’s black spots are its prison cells. Cut off from the world, Tibetan prisoners are at grave risk of torture and being killed in prison.
Free Tibet has recorded instances of prisoners being beaten by guards, denied food and being forced to drink their water from the prison latrines. Interrogations and punishments are routinely accompanied by torture, mock executions and attempts to humiliate prisoners.
Prisoners are denied visits from family members and access to lawyers or medical treatment. Some Tibetans have died in prison because they did not receive basic treatment that could have saved their lives.
Much of our information about what goes on in occupied Tibet’s prisons comes from former detainees and prisoners, who have since fled Tibet and reached the outside world. Only then do they have the freedom to recount their ordeals.
In the above video the late Alan Rickman reads the testimony of Tibetan torture survivor, Phuntsog. You can read more case studies here from survivors of occupied Tibet's prisons.
RELATIVES IN THE DARK
"[M]y only son has been pushed to death […] I am proud of my son and also of what I have done as a small contribution to the Tibetan freedom struggle." - The father of Tenzin Choedak, who died in 2014 aged 33 after six years of torture in Chushul Prison
For family members, friends and fellow students at monasteries and nunneries, the effects of an enforced disappearance are also traumatic. They may not realise at first, when their husband, mother, sister or son does not come home, that it is because they have been snatched by the state.
If they do suspect that one of their relatives has been taken away, they may find their quest for information blocked at every turn, with no information disclosed about their whereabouts, their condition, the crime they are accused of or even if they are in detention at all. They are left to wonder and to worry.
Where do they go?
It is often impossible to say. China has a vast network of detention centres and prisons throughout Tibet including houses, hostels and hotels which act as ‘black jail’ sites used to punish and extract confessions from Tibetans. It can be difficult to locate any facility in Tibet or find out conditions prisoners are being kept in.
Yet, thanks to the brave testimonials of Tibetans, we can shine a light on some of Tibet’s most notorious institutions:
What you can do
"I am one of those who survived prison. There are some older Tibetan prisoners serving long sentences who have a wife and children at home. I wished I could serve their sentences on their behalf and let them go [...] I am committed to speaking to people in the outside world on behalf of my fellow Tibetan political prisoners who are in Chinese prisons." - Gonpo Thinley, a former prisoner and torture survivor.
Free Tibet is campaigning on the cases of six detainees and prisoners. Some of them were arrested for resisting the occupation, others for peacefully expressing their culture. What they have in common is that they have been shut off from the world, with the authorities refusing to reveal details of their condition and exact location.
We want to force the authorities to reveal the location of these prisoners and to push for their release. For each case we have at least one action that you can do to put pressure on the authorities. We need them to hear our voices so that they know that the world is watching.
Wangdu was a HIV/AIDS activist in Lhasa. He was detained on 14 March 2008 during the protests against the Chinese occupation. He was later charged with espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment for sending an email about the crackdowns he witnessed on Tibetan protesters that year, which the authorities claimed was “intelligence” that threatened “the security and interests of the nation.” Wangdu was also accused of having established a group with Migmar Dondrub, Phuntsog Dorje and Tsewang Dorje to incite a “Tibetan people’s uprising” by distributing flyers and CDs.
According to Chinese officials, Wangdu is detained in Drapchi prison. His current detention conditions and wellbeing are unknown.
In 2012, witnesses reported that he was being kept in solitary confinement in the prison hospital, closely monitored by three police officers. He showed signs of injuries from beatings in prison. According to one source, one of his hands appeared to be broken and one side of his head had been shaved.
Wangdu had already served an eight-year sentence in prison from 1989 after protesting against martial law (military control over civilian life) in Lhasa, when he was a monk at Jokhang Temple. He was initially sentenced to three years but his detention was extended after he signed a petition with ten other political prisoners, denouncing the 17 Point Agreement, a document that China forced on Tibet in 1951 as a way of establishing Chinese rule over Tibet.
There have been no updates on Wangdu since 2012.
Khenpo Pagah and Geshe Orgyen are respectively an abbot and senior monk from Chogri Monastery in Drango County, Kardze, eastern Tibet (Sichuan Province). They were both detained after participating in a mass prayer ceremony for the good health of the Dalai Lama, in January 2016 in their monastery. Tibetans gathered to pray for the Dalai Lama, who was undergoing surgery in the United States. Some shouted slogans calling for his long life and waved portraits of him, which is forbidden by the Chinese government.
Arrests did not occur the day of the ceremony but several days later. Khenpo Pagah, from Tsogo Township in Drango County, and Geshe Orgyen, from Tehor Township, were taken away in early February and their whereabouts remain unknown. Afterwards, security forces were deployed in Tehor Township to closely monitor Tibetans.
At the beginning of 2016, local authorities in Drango County clamped down on the display of pictures of the Dalai Lama in public places as part of a process of removing what they called "illegal publications".
Take action for Khenpo Pagah and Geshe Orgyen - contact the Chinese Minister of Public Security and the governor of Sichuan Province. Urge them to reveal Khenpo Pagah and Geshe Orgyen's location and release them!
Sonam Lhatso is a nun from Kardze County, in Sichuan province. She was detained during a protest on 14th May 2008, and has been serving a 10 year sentence since then.
Her current location is unknown due to restrictions on communications in Tibet, but some sources suggest that she is in Mianyang Prison in Sichuan.
Her official charge has not been communicated, however her arrest and imprisonment are thought to be linked to her role in a 2008 demonstration by a group of 50 nuns from Pangri Nunnery, who opposed patriotic education sessions that were being enforced on the nunnery and which required the nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama. During the protest, the nuns shouted slogans for a free Tibet, for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and for his long life; police then arrived, broke up the protest and began beating the nuns.
The nuns were detained and while in detention were subjected to beatings. Sonam Lhatso has not been seen since then, and inquiries about her exact location and wellbeing from the nuns of Pangri Nunnery have been met with silence by authorities.
Take action for Sonam Lhatso - contact the governor of Sichuan Province. Urge him to reveal Sonam Lhatso's location and release her!
Lobsang Gendun is a monk from Drongsar monastery. He was 20 years old when he was arrested, after calling for the Dalai Lama’s long life and for Tibet’s independence, at official celebrations in Pashoe County marking the 92nd anniversary of the Communist Party of China. He was arrested the day of his protest, on 1st July 2013, and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.
It is believed that he has been charged with separatism but this has not been confirmed, nor has his place of detention. He is being held incommunicado; his relatives and fellow monks have not received any information about or from him.
Lobsang Gendun has reportedly been tortured during detention and was unable to walk when Chinese police took him to the hospital in July 2013. After his arrest, security forces raided his monastery and his family home. Police broke doors and windows at his house and it is believed that pictures of the Dalai Lama were found in his room. Communications throughout the county were then cut.
Take action for Lobsang Gendun - contact the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Urge him to reveal Lobsang Gendun's location and release him!
Yeshe Choedron is a retired medical doctor. She participated in large-scale protests in Lhasa in March 2008, leading to her being in detention that same month.
In November 2008 she stood trial, accused of providing “intelligence and information harmful to the security and interests of the state” to “the Dalai clique’s security department”. She was convicted of “espionage” and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
Yeshe Choedron is a mother and has not been able to see her children since 2008. Although she is believed to be in Drapchi Prison, there have been no recent updates on her condition, even though it is known that she has been in bad health.
Chant leader and monk from Drongna monastery, in Driru county, Thardhod Gyaltsen was arrested in December 2013. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison the following January, allegedly for being in possession of images of the Dalai Lama and recordings of his speeches and teachings - all such media being prohibited. It is said that evidence for this was found during a police raid at his monastery, but this has not been confirmed by Chinese authorities.
His location has not been confirmed but he is believed to be detained in Chushul prison. His imprisonment conditions and treatment remain unknown.
Take action for Thardhod Gyaltsen - Contact the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, urging him to free Thardhod Gyaltsen!
Jamyang Lodru, a monk from Tsenang Monastery, was arbitrarily arrested on 15 May 2016 in Barkam, the capital city of Ngaba. Chinese authorities did not give any reason for his arrest or the 3-year prison sentence he received in 2017.
According to witnesses his arrest happened very quickly and was violent: the police suddenly appeared, covered his head, cuffed his hands and put him into a police vehicle.
Since then, his family have not been authorised to communicate with him, nor have they obtained any information about his conditions. Jamyang Lodru’s place of imprisonment is still kept secret.
In April 2019, Wangchen, a 20 year old from eastern Tibet, gathered with friends to commemorate the Panchen Lama’s 30th birthday. The group called for the release of the Panchen Lama, who was detained as a boy in 1995 and has been missing ever since. They also called for the Panchen Lama and the exiled Dalai Lama to one day be reunited in Tibet.
For this peaceful act, Wangchen was arrested. When his aunt, Dolkar, shared the news of Wangchen’s arrest, she too was charged.
On 8 May 2019, Wangchen was found guilty of leading “a conspicuous protest in public against the law of the land”, and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. Dolkar was found guilty of “causing social instability” by disclosing information of the arrest and sentenced to one year and three months in prison.
Take action for Dolkar and Wangchen - Contact the Party Secretary of Sichuan Province. Urge them to release Dolkar and Wangchen!