Injustice and brutality: a death in Tibet

Family of Tsering Tso
Tsering Tso's grandmother Lhadhey and mother Adhey. Photo credit: Washington Post
26th August 2016

Community punished for seeking the truth

A major article has appeared in the Washington Post telling the story of Tsering Tso, a 27-year-old Tibetan woman whose tragic death lead to terrible consequences for her community. Free Tibet worked with the Post to bring her story to light, after receiving a copy of a letter from the people of her community, seeking to expose the truth about what happened there and demanding justice from China.

The sometimes difficult story is best told in the article in the Post, written after journalist Simon Denyer visited her community, but the bare details say enough.

Tragic death

On 5 October 2015, the body of  Tsering Tso was found hanging from a bridge near the small town of Chalong in Kardze prefecture, eastern Tibet. Described by her mother as "healthy and happy", she had supported her family, including her grandmother, by herding yaks. She had last been seen the previous night in the company of the abbot of a local monastery with whom she was having a relationship, and two policemen who were drinking with him. Shocked villagers found signs on her body suggesting to them that the hanging may have been staged to cover up her having been killed.

A group went to the police station demanding action. The two policemen were not to be found and the abbot too had disappeared. The police insisted their men were innocent. Angered by their indifference and refusal to take the matter seriously, the crowd became angry, throwing stones and demanding justice.

"Blood in the streets"

Instead of investigating Tsering Tso's death, the authorities insisted it was suicide and the policemen were blameless. They accused the entire village of "splittism" - China's catch-all crime allowing authorities to punish Tibetans for any sign of opposition to their rule. On 10 October, hundreds of armed troops appeared in Tsering Tso's village and arrested and tied up more than 40 people. They then beat with metal rods.  Their injured bodies were thrown into a truck "like corpses", according to one local, who also described how the streets ran with blood. When they were released, some of them weeks or months later, almost all of those arrested had to go to hospital. 

Convicted and sentenced

Still seeking justice, Pema Dechen, the head of the township and a respected local leader, appealed to authorities on the case but was dismissed from his position as a result of doing so. A bribe was paid to county officials in order to try to secure their release but nothing resulted from it. Internet connections in the village were cut off and phones confiscated. Villagers were later told that they would be denied government subsidies for roads and houses for three years because of their town's "bad character".

In May this year, five men who had been arrested in October were convicted of political crimes and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison each.

In the words of Tsering Tso's mother, Adhey, who is quoted in the article:

"My beloved daughter was murdered without any justice being given by the government. Instead they simply arrested more innocent people and sent them to jail." 

Injustice in Tibet

Finally, in June, members of Tsering Tso's community decided their only option was to let the world know about their plight and appeal for help and justice from China's highest authority. On behalf of 700 of them, an open letter was written to President Xi Jinping. The letter's introduction spells out the reality of life in Tibet as Tibetans know it to be:

“These days the Chinese Communists are claiming and announcing how they are building a perfect Tibet and how free and happy Tibetans are in China, but now we have no option but to show the world an actual example of the real suffering endured by the people of the three regions of Tibet under Chinese oppression.”

They concluded:

“We hope that Xi Jinping and the top leaders will support us, and that the rest of the world could understand our pain.

"No enquiry has been held into Tsering Tso’s death, while local officials and leaders from Kandze county level upwards have conspired to use force to bully the common people. It is our hope that where Chinese government laws and regulations are seriously flouted, in grave cases of corruption like this, Xi Jinping and the top leadership will investigate and rectify.

"Rather than enduring injustice in silence, we are writing this appeal in the name of over 700 residents of the Tsalung, Kyaklung, Datoe and Rakor townships under Datarma Qu in Kandze county, Kandze prefecture, Sichuan province on June 1st 2016 and making it known to the outside world.”

The full and shocking story can be read in the Washington Post here.

Bringing out the truth

The letter written by the villagers was sent out of Tibet to Golog Jigme, a former political prisoner now living in Switzerland. Golog Jigme sent the details to Free Tibet's research partner, Tibet Watch, who passed them to Free Tibet. We took the story to the Washington Post and worked with the journalist as he planned a trip to Kardze to learn the truth. At the time of writing , his article is the most read story on the Post's website. We are proud to have played our part in bringing the truth about the injustice faced by the community to the attention of the world. We hope that justice for the community and Tsering Tso will follow.