The nature of the Chinese administration of Tibet is colonialist repression of the people for the exploitation of resources. One area where this is particularly evident is in the administration of justice where the entire Party, government and judicial structure in Tibet has been mobilised to eradicate the independence movement.
Policy of Merciless RepressionAlmost all aspects of political unrest in Tibet can be traced back to one underlying theme: the desire of Tibetans for independence and the return of the Dalai Lama from exile. By the early 1980s, the independence movement was no great threat to the Chinese Government, but it was enough to worry the authorities. The entire Party, government and judicial structure in Tibet has been directed at eradicating the independence movement. This has encouraged of^cials in the prison judicial system to treat Tibetan nationalists as beyond the protection of even the most basic legal safeguards set out in China's criminal legislation (Defying the Dragon: China and Human Rights in Tibet, Lawasia & Tibet Information Network, March 1991; p.54).
In China the rule of law is subordinate to the stability of the state. In Tibet the law of the People's Republic of China is used for the prevention of the "splitting of the motherland". Non-violent opposition to the occupation of the Chinese is met with charges of "counter-revolution" and the offender classed as an enemy of the people. Chinese authorities regard anyone arrested for nationalist activities as undeserving of the protection of the law, essentially because they have forfeited their right to be considered part of "the people" (Defying; p.31).
In April 1994 China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang claimed China was ready for dialogue on human rights but would not countenance discussion of "criminals" regarded as dissidents in the west.
There are no effective official channels through which detainees or a representative can make complaints. If a friend or relative does, they are likely to be brought under suspicion as an independence sympathiser. Furthermore, the Public Security Bureau (responsible for the welfare of political prisoners in the Tibet Autonomous Region) plays a key role in breaking up demonstrations, monitoring and arresting suspects and conducting investigations. Tibetans only have recourse through contact with international human rights groups.
Thousands of Tibetans are in custody for political reasons. Accurate figures, however, are impossible due to the reluctance of the Chinese Government to provide any information and their insistence that political prisoners are only criminals. Further confusion is created by the system of administrative detention which allows for long periods of detention under "forced labour" without the need for trial. Since August 1989, the names of at least 27 Tibetans sentenced to up to three years "re-education through labour" have been publicly announced. Reports from Tibet, however, suggest that at least 60 Tibetans have been given such sentences in Lhasa since August 1989 (Defying; p.36).
A report in February 1994 by the human rights group Asia Watch indicates that political repression in China and Tibet is increasing. The report called 1993 the worst year for human rights in China since the aftermath of the bloody Tiananmen crackdown, and documented almost 250 cases of political arrest or trial, 80% of which occurred in Tibet. China continues to breach its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture. China has failed to observe, in Tibet, prohibitions against torture written out in its own domestic legislation. In June 1994 Premier Li Peng stated that "the affairs of a country should be managed by its own people who have every right to choose their own social system and course of development. No other country should interfere under any pretext in any manner."
Crimes of Counter-RevolutionAll talk of Tibetan independence threatens the unity of the "motherland". It is regarded as counter-revolutionary, and since 1951 has in many cases been a capital offence (Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet, Mary Craig, 1992; p.234). Counter-revolution is defined in Article 90 of the PRC Chinese Criminal Law as acts "commited with the goal of overthrowing the political power of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system."
Many counter-revolutionary offences carry the death penalty. In May 1994 China announced sweeping new laws designed to silence political dissent. There are now 18 new grounds for detention, including forming a social organisation without government approval, "fabricating and distorting facts", spreading rumours or "otherwise disrupting public order". Punishments will now be handed out for "stirring up conflicts between nationalities, hurting the unity of nationalities and inciting separation of nationalities". The new laws greatly enhance police powers.
Seemingly minor acts of non-violent protest are met with the "iron fist". Tibetans who openly express political dissent to western tourists, or who collect information about conditions in Tibet and try to forward it to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile or western human rights groups are particularly at risk. In 1987, Yulu Dawa Tsering was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for spreading "counter-revolutionary" propaganda. He had merely said to a Western tourist: "May Tibet be released from the mouth of the wolf", and expressed his hope for a peaceful achievement of Tibetan independence (Defying). Wang Langjie was sentenced to an unspecified term of imprisonment in January 1990 for shouting for Tibetan independence in public (Reuters, 4/2/90).
Trial ProceedingsTibetans suspected of opposing the policies of the PRC in Tibet have been held as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience for lengthy periods, some for decades. A list of 108 political prisoners presented by the US government to China in October 1993 took nine months to elicit a response. China listed 51 as 'cannot be found' and did not even say where the acknowledged prisoners were being held. The charges against these people are often unknown and many dissidents, especially before 1987, were sentenced or executed without trial.
Between October 1987 and July 1989 only about a dozen Tibetan political prisoners were known to have been formally charged with criminal offences and tried by a court. The Chinese authorities, however, started to bring to trial scores of Tibetan political prisoners, the exact numbers of which are not clear, after a new policy was instigated in August 1989 (Defying; p.34).
According to Article 125 of the PRC Constitution, "the accused has the right of defence". However, there is no known case of a Tibetan receiving legal assistance prior to, or during, the hearing. It seems that normal judicial procedures have been abridged. The Chinese criminal justice system in Tibet also has no presumption of innocence. There is no known case of a Tibetan defendant accused of political crimes being acquitted (Defying; p.35).
The PRC Criminal Procedure Law states that all trials be public, except those dealing with state secrets, private individual matters or minors (Articles 8 and 11, PRC Criminal Procedural Law). In reality however, most trials in Tibet are held in secret or before a specially selected audience (Defying; p.34). It is very difficult to obtain first-hand accounts of political trials in Tibet. However, there is one recorded eyewitness report of a public trial of two monks from Ngarong Monastery, held in Rigong, March 1990. They were detained in Autumn 1989 after unfurling a Tibetan national flag in the street. Neither of the accused was represented. Nor were they given the chance to defend themselves. The monks were sentenced to one, and one and a half years imprisonment respectively, for counter-revolutionary crimes (Defying; p.35).
The average term of imprisonment since the trials began in 1989 seems to be six and a half years. There have been prison sentences of up to 19 years handed down to Tibetans found guilty of counter-revolutionary offences. There is growing speculation that Tibetan political prisoners have been executed, though no direct evidence of this since 1987 (Defying; p.36). Prisoner releases are often of older prisoners deemed to pose little threat. Other releases have police reporting conditions attached.
Life in PrisonThere is overwhelming evidence that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are a routine part of detention in police stations, detention centres, labour camps and prisons in Tibet. First-hand reports from released prisoners describe the use of electric batons applied to the torso, mouth, soles of feet and genitals; the use of lighted cigarettes to inflict burns; the use of truncheons or rifle butts for beatings; the use of dogs to bite detainees; and the use of manacles and chains to restrain prisoners for long periods.
On a visit to Britain in early 1995, monk Palden Gyatso showed smuggled-out torture implements, used on him for 30 years. Accounts also describe the practice of making people stand outside for several days at a time, sometimes on blocks of ice. There have also been reports of Tibetans, including juveniles, dying in prison as a result of torture and other mistreatment (Defying ; pp.47-53).
Released prisoners interviewed have stated that the food is insufficient and of such poor quality that it causes diarrhoea. Many former prisoners have described a rule prohibiting inmates from speaking to each other. Reports consistently suggest that medical care in the prisons is inadequate: limited to very basic first aid for what are sometimes serious injuries or illnesses. There were 255 political prisoners in Drapchi prison by 1994 (twice the numbers of 1990). The vast majority were either monks or nuns. Phuntsog Yangki, a young Tibetan nun died in Drapchi in June 1994 very possibly following the beatings she received from prison guards.
For case studies see Repression in Tibet, 1987-1992, Amnesty International, May 1992; 'Detained in China and Tibet', Asia Watch February & May 1994 and TIN Bulletins.
All attempts to discuss Tibet are bedevilled by the Chinese redefinition of the country's borders since 1949. Tibet Support Group UK uses the term Tibet to refer to the three original provinces of U'Tsang, Kham and Amdo (sometimes called Greater Tibet). When the Chinese refer to Tibet they invariably mean the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which includes only one province, U'Tsang (the TAR was formally inaugurated in 1965). In 1949 the other two provinces, Amdo and Kham, were renamed by the Chinese as parts of China proper and became the province of Qinghai and parts of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.
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