Tibetan political detainee and torture survivor dies following long-term poor health

Monday, 29 April 2019

A former Tibetan political detainee named Pema Wangchen passed away in a hospital in Chengdu at around 12:30pm Tibetan time on Friday 26 April 2019.

Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch, reports that his death was linked to the torture that he was subjected to while in police custody following his arrest in April 2016.

Pema Wangchen was arrested after singing the Tibetan national anthem on 13 February 2016 in a public place in his native Ogzang Township in Kardze, eastern Tibet (1). 13 February was the fifth day of the Tibetan New Year.

Video footage of him singing the Tibetan national anthem was posted online and went viral, bringing him to the attention of the police.  He was arrested in April while he was driving. The police did not provide a warrant and Pema Wangchen was given no explanation for his arrest, leading him to believe that he was stopped for driving without a license.

The reason for his detention was only made clear while he was in detention. Pema Wangchen was interrogated by police and questioned about any songs that he might have sung. He spent one month and four days in police custody, during which time he was severely beaten and tortured. Due to his deteriorating health, he was released from custody in early May 2016.

A relative of Wangchen living in exile said that Wangchen was in poor health was he was released. Following his release, Wangchen suffered from health problems, which continued to deteriorate, leading to him being taken to a hospital in Kardze on 21 April 2019.  Doctors there were unable to trace his illness, so three days later he was taken to Sān Liù Sān Hospital in Chengdu, where he died days later.

Pema Wangchen was in his early thirties when he died. He was a single father to three children and a driver by profession. He had briefly studied in India and later returned to Tibet. Pema Wangchen is also survived by his mother, Khaga, and his father, Pega.

Pema Wangchen’s brother, Palden Trinley, is a monk from Kardze Monastery who was arrested in 2008 with two other monks who marched through the street in Kardze shouting "Long live the Dalai Lama”. Palden Trinley served seven years in prison and was released on 18 May 2015, although he has been prohibited from returning to the monastery. The Chinese government has also withheld public benefits from the family as further punishment.

Free Tibet and Tibet Watch director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

“Pema Wangchen’s death demonstrates how the Chinese occupation of Tibet ruins lives. For an act as simple as singing his national anthem, an integral part of his Tibetan culture, he suffered wounds that ultimately took his life, robbing his parents of a son and his children of a father. We are unlikely to see any investigations on the part of the police or the Chinese authorities. It is only through the bravery and resourcefulness of other Tibetans that this information reached the outside world. The task now falls to those of us living in free societies to push for justice for Pema Wangchen and his fellow Tibetans.”

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Notes to editors

1. Location: Ogzang Township in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province