The Chinese government has confirmed that two Tibetan men are in its custody and that one of them has already been sentenced to prison for “inciting secession” and “jeopardising national unity and social stability.”
The arrests of Rinchen Tsultrim and Go Sherab Gyatso were confirmed in response to a letter sent by United Nations human rights experts in July this year. However, authorities have not elaborated on the specifics of their arrests, a frequent experience for Tibetans, many of whom have been arrested on similarly arbitrary charges under the occupation.
Rinchen Tsultrim, a Tibetan monk, was arrested in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) County on 2 August 2019 and held incommunicado, with no news on his whereabouts. He was accused of “inciting secession”, which is understood to relate to his online activities, and, in particular, his use of social media app WeChat to share images of Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, alongside his thoughts on the situation in Tibet.
In its response to the letter from UN human rights experts, the Chinese government confirmed that Rinchen Tsultrim was sentenced to four years and six months in prison, and a further three years deprivation of political rights on 27 November 2020. He is currently incarcerated at Aba Prison in Sichuan province. While Tibet Watch was able to confirm the sentence earlier this year, the date of the verdict was previously unknown.
Anonymous sources in Tibet confirm that Tsultrim’s family have been unable to visit him in prison, nor were they informed of his whereabouts until March 2021. On 23 March 2021 his family received a call from authorities, informing them that they would be allowed to visit Tsultrim for one hour. However, one anonymous source states that this promise “has never been fulfilled,” going on to say “his family is worried about his condition and his health.”
Go Sherab Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and writer who is also known as Gosher, was detained on 26 October 2020 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Much like Richen Tsultrim, Sherab Gyatso has been held incommunicado since his arrest, with news of his disappearance surfacing after five months. With the release of this letter by the Chinese government, we now have confirmation that he was arrested on the charge of “suspicion of inciting secession.”
The Chinese government letter further states that the Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court has held a hearing on Sherab Gyatso’s case, but notes that a verdict is yet to be pronounced. Chinese officials stated that they have “notified Go Sherab Gyatso’s family of the relevant information,” and deny that any arbitrary detention or forced disappearance has taken place.
While the precise reasons for Sherab Gyatso’s arrest remain a state secret, it is highly likely that they relate to his written and spoken work. Sources reported to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy on 16 April 2021 that it was his fourth known detention in over two decades. A public educator, Go Sherab Gyatso has given many public talks and lectures on Tibet’s environment, Buddhism, and the preservation of Tibetan language and culture. His published books focus on a diverse range of Tibetan issues, including those of cultural survival and Tibetan civilisation.
Due to the threat of retribution by the state, Go Sherab Gyatso’s family have been unable to speak about his situation, instead being forced into silence.
Read the full letter from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights here.
Read the Chinese government’s response here.