Fear of Chinese prison drives Tibetan to suicide

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Press release: 10 May 2012

A 25-year-old Tibetan man killed himself rather than face the consequences of what would happen to him if he were detained by Chinese forces. Gonpo Rigzin stabbed himself in his upper body and died at his family home in Sheda Township, Drango County, Kandze Autonomous Prefecture (1).

Before committing suicide, he said “it is better to kill myself than be arrested by the Chinese”.

Gonpo had been involved in a protest in Drango Town on 23 January. Unconfirmed reports allege that he was involved, along with others, in damaging a police vehicle during the protest in which Chinese forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. At least two Tibetans were killed and more than 30 injured in the largest shooting incident in Tibet since 2008 (2).

It is believed that Gonpo was identified from surveillance camera footage. After the 2008 protests, surveillance camera footage from Lhasa was used to create a ‘most wanted’ list of Tibetans which was broadcast on state television. Since then, more and more cameras have been erected in Tibetan areas, including inside monasteries. Scores of Tibetans have been detained or disappeared for involvement in the current Tibetan Spring protests.

Villagers in his township had repeatedly been ordered to gather by local government officials and subjected to patriotic re-education instruction (3) – a routine occurrence after the Drango protest.

The police had repeatedly told Gonpo Rigzin’s family that he had to attend these meetings but he hadn't as he believed he would be detained on arrival. His family was also subjected to harassment from the police.

It was on the final occasion when he was ordered to attend patriotic re-education that he made the comment: “It is better to kill myself than be arrested by the Chinese”.

On 29 March, he heard the Paramilitary Security Bureau were on their way to his house so he stabbed himself before they got to him.

A communications blackout meant that this story has only come to light now.

Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said:

“This heart-breaking case highlights the desperation and fear that ordinary Tibetans experience. You can only imagine how terrified Gonpo Rigzin must have been to take his own life in this way rather than face a future in a Chinese jail. Torture is widespread and routine in Tibet. Convictions are often based on confessions alone and Tibetans are often denied legal representation.

“How much longer can world leaders continue to be publicly silent on Tibet?”


Notes to editors

1. Chinese: Luhuo County, Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province

2. http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/Tibetans-shot-one-dead-many-injured-in-Draggo

3. Patriotic re-education is a government-run campaign with the aim of changing the fundamental elements of belief. In this compulsory programme, Tibetan Buddhists are forced to denounce their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama who they hold as sacred, and to place the state before their religion.

Those who refuse to take part can be stripped of their religious rights. Patriotic re-education violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religious belief and violates the right to personal integrity, dignity; it amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and, in some cases, may amount to torture.

Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans to be respected.
For interviews and further information please contact Free Tibet’s Director Stephanie Brigden:

E: stephanie@freetibet.org
M: +44 7971 479 515
T: +44 207 324 4605
S: stephaniefreetibet