“Effectively a death sentence” - Tibetan monk dies following police beating in custody

Friday, 22 January 2021

A 19-year-old monk named Tenzin Nyima died on 19 January 2021 due to injuries inflicted on him by police in prison. The information was passed on by a confidential network of contacts to Tibet Watch, Free Tibet’s research partner.

Tenzin Nyima (also known as Tamey) was a monk from Dza Wonpo Monastery in Wonpo Township in Kardze, which is in eastern Tibet but governed as part of Sichuan Province (1).

On 7 November 2019, Tenzin Nyima was arrested with four young Tibetan monks from Dza Wonpo Village. The group was holding a peaceful demonstration outside the local police station in which they threw leaflets in the air, calling for Tibet’s independence. After military troops were deployed in the area following their protest, two other Tibetans were  arrested on 21 November 2019 for holding a similar protest, prior to which they boldly expressed their steadfast solidarity with the others in a social media post saying “the spirit and dignity of Tibetan people is in our blood and can never be extinguished”.

Tenzin Nyima was released in May 2020 but arrested again on 11 August 2020 for sharing the news of his arrest and contacting Tibetans in exile in India.

In October 2020, Tenzin Nyima’s family were contacted by the police, who informed them that his health condition had deteriorated and he was now in a comatose condition. His family took him to a nearby hospital in the city of Chengdu, where his admission was delayed due to the family’s inability to afford the expensive medical charges, which amounted to 40,000 yuan (2). After his relatives and local villagers raised money for his medical expenses, Tenzin Nyima was admitted to the hospital only to be discharged after several weeks because his injuries were declared beyond treatment. The family, still hoping to keep him alive, sought treatment for Tenzin Nyima at another local hospital in Dartsedo on 1 December. However, his relatives were informed that his condition was terminal. The relatives  brought him home at last, and sources in India told Tibet Watch that Tenzin Nyima died on 19 January.

Free Tibet’s Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, John Jones, said:

“Tenzin’s killing is emblematic of the brutality of China’s occupation of Tibet and the flagrant disregard for Tibetan life. The moment Tenzin Nyima was detained he was placed at the mercy of the police; it was effectively a death sentence.

“Tibetans know these risks all too well, and yet still they put their safety on the line to protest. No amount of police or crackdowns will deter a people from protesting when they are committed with every fibre of their being to protecting their culture, identity and way of life from being destroyed. The protests will only end when the occupation does. International governments must push Beijing to acknowledge this.” 

Convicted in a coma

Despite his comatose state, Tenzin Nyima was issued with a court summons on 6 November demanding that he appear before Sershul Intermediate People’s Court on the afternoon of 10 November to face charges of “inciting separatism”, a state security crime.

In November and December 2020, the other protesters in Dza Wonpo were tried behind closed doors by Sershul Intermediate People’s Court. Kunsal, aged 20, Choegyal and Yonten were sentenced four years each after being found guilty of inciting separatism. Sotra was sentenced to three years in prison and Tsultrim, a minor aged 16, who was 15 at the time of the protest, was sentenced for one year in prison, both on the same charges of inciting separatism.  Another Tibetan monk, Nyimay, who leaked the information to social media sites and was arrested on 18 November 2019, was also found guilty of inciting separatism and received the longest sentence - five years in prison.

According to Tibet Watch’s source, the protests by Tenzin Nyima and his fellow monks were a response to Chinese officials touring the region, for which the local Tibetans were forced to praise China and the Chinese Communist Party’s “Poverty Alleviation”(3) policy. This was to be filmed and shared by Chinese state news outlets as a way of demonstrating that the resettled Tibetan nomads under Chinese occupation are happy  (4).

Free Tibet’s Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, John Jones, said:

“The sickening treatment of Tenzin Nyima makes it all the more urgent that these remaining prisoners are released. They have committed no crime other than to peacefully protest the occupation of their country and the relentless attacks on their way of life. 

“The prison sentence for Tsultrim, who was 15 when he was arrested, is a particularly damning sign of how low Beijing can go in the name of crushing opposition. International governments must act immediately to press Beijing to reverse these senseless convictions”.



For further information or comment, contact Free Tibet Campaigns and Communications Manager John Jones


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Notes to editors

1. Location: Dza Wonpo Monastery, Wonpo Township, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sershul (Chinese: Shiqu) County, Kham (Ch: Sichuan Province)

2. 40,000 yuan is equivalent to over 4,500 British pounds, 5,000 euros or 6,000 US dollars

3. Chinese authorities across Tibet have been pursuing a policy of forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan nomads since the occupation of Tibet under various policies. Their centuries-long traditional knowledge about sustainable grazing has been blamed for grassland degradation, and their rural livelihoods are considered poor and unscientific. They are forced to give up, sell or slaughter their livestock. This is part of a process of what the CCP calls “poverty alleviation”.

Free Tibet has reported a growing number of protests by Tibetan nomads against unfair compensation, land grab, lack of inclusion in the decision-making of their pastures. Under all these conditions, the local Chinese authorities, who are largely involved in corruption, have sought to extract statements from Tibetan nomads expressing gratitude to the CCP for their help. 

On a National level, China is developing an integrated system of National Park under the vision of Xi Jinping’s idea of “ecological civilization”, and seeking training from IUCN Green Lists and accreditation from international bodies like UNESCO to endorse nomination of Tibetan areas as “Natural Heritage Site”.

4. In addition to the resettlement of Tibetan nomads, Tibet Watch has noted that Tibetans have been ordered to put the portrait of Chinese leaders in their shrines where traditionally Tibetan keep the statue of Buddha and images of the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders. Evidence of such photos are seen in many Chinese State propaganda media. This order, and the process of forced nomadic resettlement, have provoked resentment among Tibetans in the region and have forced locals to make difficult choices between reluctantly complying with the orders or refusing to comply at the risk of facing reprisals.