Political prisoners

The cost of speaking out


Jails in Tibet are full of political prisoners.

Many are serving long-term sentences for voicing their opinions on the desperate situation in their country, sending emails to the outside world or printing illegal literature.

'Confessions' are often obtained through torture and trials take place in secret.

Whilst they number in the thousands, their exact number is unknown as many people simply disappear.

This is just a selection:

Tibet's jailed musicians

Tibet's jailed musiciansGet involved in our campaign calling for the release of Tibetan singers who have been jailed calling for freedom in Tibet.

Find out more about Tibet's jailed musicians and join world-famous musicians who have signed our petition.

Khenpo Kartse

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Khenpo Kartse is a highly respected senior monk and activist from central Tibet. Well known for his advocacy of the Tibetan language and environmental issues, he was arrested by Chinese police in December 2013 and has been denied proper food and medication for serious health problems in prison.

He has been charged with harbouring other monks wanted by the police and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months

Read more about Khenpo Kartse's case.


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Tibetan singer Lolo was sentenced to six years in prison in February 2013. His crime was recording an album of 14 songs that called for Tibet's independence, unity of the Tibetan people and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Soon after the album's release in 2012 the 30-year-old was arrested in eastern Tibet. He had no known links to protests or other activism.

Read more about Lolo

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (Panchen Lama)

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One of the world's youngest political prisoners, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was abducted aged six in May 1995, after being recognised by the exiled Dalai Lama as the new Panchen Lama. No one has seen or heard from him since and China has repeatedly ignored demands to confirm his safety and wellbeing.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was abducted because the Panchen Lama is a highly important religious figure in Tibet, with a key role in identifying the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.

China subsequently appointed its own state-approved Panchen Lama.

Read more about the Panchen Lama

Gangkye Drubpa Kyab

Gangkye Drubpa Kyab

This popular Tibetan writer was arrested late at night by a team of 20 officers who burst into his home.

He was taken away in front of his wife and child.

In August 2013, he was sentenced to five and a half years imprisonment for alleged political activities.

Read more about Gangkye Drubpa Kyab

Dhondup Wangchen

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UPDATE: Dondhup Wangchen was released in June 2014

Film maker Dhondup Wangchen was arrested in spring 2008 for making the documentary Leaving Fear Behind, where he interviewed ordinary Tibetans who
bravely spoke out about the repression in their country.

Charged with subversion, Dhondup was sentenced to six years in prison on 28 December 2009. The authorities failed to tell his relatives where the trial was taking place or the verdict.

Read more about Dhondup Wangchen

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

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UPDATE: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison on 12 July 2015

Arrested in April 2002 with a colleague for alleged involvement in a bomb explosion, this respected monk and community leader was sentenced to death for his involvement in a bombing, despite a lack of evidence against him.

Following an international campaign, his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.

Read more about Tenzin Delek Rinpoche


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The public health worker was charged with espionage for passing on information about crackdowns on Tibetan protesters via email and was sentenced to life in December 2008.

Wangdu worked on an HIV/AIDS prevention project and had been promoting AIDS awareness in Tibet since 2001.

Read more about Wangdu

Phurbu Rinpoche

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Phurbu Rinpoche was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for possession of weapons and occupying state land. His lawyers claim his arrest was unlawful, the evidence unsound and that he has been tortured.

Free Tibet believes that Phurbu was detained following peaceful demonstrations by nuns from Pangrina nunnery, where he is abbot, in order to deter local Tibetans from further protests.

Read more about Phurbu Rinpoche

Kunchok Tsephel

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The founder of a popular Tibetan literary website was sentenced to 15 years in November 2009 for 'divulging state secrets'.

He was detained for nine months until his trial, which took place in secret.

Kunchok's self-funded website, which promotes Tibetan culture and literature, has been closed on various occasions by the Chinese authorities.

Read more about Kunchok Tsephel

Dorje Tashi

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Tibetan millionaire, hotel owner and Communist Party member Dorje is serving life in prison.

He was detained shortly after the 2008 protests and found guilty of unspecified charges at a secret trial in Lhasa.

Read more about Dorje Tashi

Paljor Norbu

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Paljor Norbu, who is in his eighties, was arrested by People's Armed Police in Lhasa in October 2008 for printing illegal materials - including the banned Tibetan national flag,

His whereabouts are unknown.

Read more about Paljor Norbu

Bangri Tsamtrul Rinpoche

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In 1996, lama Bangri Rinpoche and his wife Nyima founded an orphanage in Lhasa. They were pillars of the Tibetan community until their arrest in 1999 for 'attempting to split the country'. Bangri is not due for release until 2021.

Read more about Bangri Tsamtrul Rinpoche