In 1995, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima turned six years old. Barely a month later, he became the world's youngest political prisoner.
In October 2021, Drago County in Kardze, eastern Tibet, became the latest target in an ongoing assault on Tibetan Buddhism. At the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Drago County has seen the callous destruction of many of its most important cultural and religious sites. Those who resisted have been arbitrarily arrested, forced into political re-education and subjected to torture.
A Buddhist school with over 100 students. A building housing 45 giant prayer wheels. A 99-foot-tall statue of the Buddha. A 30-foot-tall statue and temple dedicated to the Buddha of Future. The home of a revered spiritual leader. All have been lost forever because of the Chinese government’s fear of the power of Tibetan Buddhism.
Satellite images showing the 99-foot Buddha statue, covered by a white canopy (centre), before and after its demolition. Credit: Planet Labs and Radio Free Asia
Not content with just removing these important religious sites, local authorities also forced spiritual figures to convince local Tibetan devotees themselves to assist in the destruction – a move designed to inflict the maximum possible distress.
Local officials used a flimsy excuse that the buildings lacked planning permission, but the school was on land owned by the local monastery, and the construction of the 99-foot-tall statue of the Buddha was publicly approved in 2015 by the then head of Drago County.
Chinese state surveillance is an immense obstacle to uncovering the truth in Tibet. However, Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch, is committed to gathering as much information as possible to show the world what the Chinese government is doing.
Resisting the CCP’s control, brave Tibetans have shared that paramilitary troops and informers have been sent to Drago County to monitor residents and report on possible protests. Mobile phones are being inspected to try to prevent any information from leaving Tibet. And local Tibetans have been threatened with expulsion from their jobs, schools and monasteries if they complain about the demolitions.
This is not the first time Drago County has been targeted – in 2008 and 2012, the region was subjected to violent crackdowns – and these appalling human rights violations are being replicated across occupied Tibet all the time.
Each day, the situation in Drago County deteriorates.
This crackdown is continuing across Tibet, as part of a wider escalation of the Chinese government’s crackdown on religious freedom.
Report: Desecration in Drago County
In January 2023, Free Tibet and Tibet Watch launched Desecration in Drago County, comprehensive report detailing the ongoing crisis.
The report is the culmination of 18 months of research, drawing on a range of techniques to break the CCP’s lockdown on information, from analysing open source information, interviewing former residents, inspecting drone footage and commissioning satellite imagery.
It is hoped that this report will help raise awareness of the repression in Drago County and spur international solidarity and support for its residents.