Dark prison cell

Torture in Tibet

Torture is an everyday reality in Tibet. Used by China as a weapon against dissent, creating a climate of fear.

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.

"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 me electric shocks to my mouth. [...] I could feel nothing. I only smelt the burning of my own flesh."
– Golog Jigme, Tibetan torture survivor

The Techniques of Torture

Free Tibet has found that political prisoners in Tibet are subjected to a range of torture techniques and cruel and degrading treatment. You can read about their experiences in their own words here.

Former prisoners have regularly reported being beaten with electric batons, butts of guns and other heavy objects. 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. Others have reported being shackled to an iron “interrogation chair”, which forces the detainee to bear their entire weight on their wrists and legs. Political prisoner Golog Jigme tells of how a senior prison officer warned other guards 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 are often unaware of where the detainee is being held.

Deaths And Disappearances

Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in Chinese prison

Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in Chinese prison

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 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, one of Tibet’s most high-profile political prisoners and a victim of torture, died suddenly in prison, thirteen years into a 22-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

Torture is forbidden under international law. The UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment define torture as:

‘For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means 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.


Read our 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.

Hear one survivor’s testimony, read by British actress Juliet Stevenson, in our video below. For security reasons, the survivor’s identity has been protected.


What we are doing

At the United Nations:

  • In February 2015, we submitted our first dossier of evidence to the Committee Against Torture (CAT). CAT raised almost all of the issues and cases we identified directly with the Chinese government.
  • In October 2015, we submitted further detailed evidence to CAT, as it prepared for its final review of China.
  • In November 2015, Free Tibet’s then 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 the former Chinese Minister of Justice Wu Aiying called 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 supporters to find the location of their nearest Chinese embassy and write them a letter, calling on them to end the use of torture in their justice system.

Further reading

Further reading


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.

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.