hands on jail cell bars

Political 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”

– Golog Jigme, former prisoner and torture survivor

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

“My 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 after six years of torture in Chushul Prison

picture of Tenzin Choedak, who died in prison after years of torture

33-year-old Tenzin Choedak died in 2014 after 6 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 Did 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 the 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.

"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

What You Can Do

Free Tibet is campaigning on the cases of 10 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 an 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.

Take action for Wangdu – contact the Tibet Autonomous Region Governor, to demand his release, and Drapchi prison Director, to prevent any torture or ill-treatment!

Take action

Khenpo and Geshe

Geshe Orgyen and Khenpo Pagah

Geshe Orgyen (right) and Khenpo Pagah

Khenpo Pagah and Geshe Orgyen are senior monks from Chogri Monastery in Drango County, Kardze, eastern Tibet. 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!

Take action

Lobsang GendunLobsang Gendun

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!

Take action

Yeshe ChoedronYeshe Choedron

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.

Take action for Yeshe Choedron – Call on the Director of Drapchi Prison and the Governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region to release Yeshe Choedron!

Take action

Further reading

Further reading


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

Further reading


Here are a selection of case studies of individuals who have suffered human rights abuses at the hand of China’s regime. Many of them have been imprisoned and some remain in prison, died whilst in prison or still have unknown whereabouts.

We are Free Tibet, and we stand with Tibetans around the world. For their homeland, for their future and against China’s brutal occupation.