Torture in Tibet

GOLOG JIGME QUOTETorture is an everyday reality in Tibet. Used by China as a weapon against dissent, creating a climate of fear.

Our findings show that torture, abuse and degradation of Tibetan political prisoners continue in Chinese-occupied Tibet and that prisoners continue to be killed from torture and convicted as a result of confessions obtained by torture. 

The Techniques of Torture

Free Tibet has found that political prisoners in Tibet are subjected to a range of torture techniques and cruel and degrading treatment. You can read about their experiences in their own words here.

Former prisoners have regularly reported being beaten with electric batons, butts of guns and other heavy objects. There were also repeated cases of detainees being subjected to electric shocks during interrogations.

Some Tibetan prisoners have been hung from the ceiling for periods lasting several hours. Others have reported being shackled to an iron "interrogation chair", which forces the detainee to bare their entire weight on their wrists and legs. Political prisoner Golog Jigme tells of how a senior prison officer warned other guards that if he spent any more time tied in this position it could kill him.

Prisoners are also subjected to cruel and degrading treatment. Several former prisoners reported being denied food and water, with one recalling that he and his fellow detainees had to drink water from a toilet. Prisoners have also been denied blankets and mattresses, despite the cold weather, or made to sit outside in freezing cold water. Access to political prisoners is tightly restricted, with access to doctors and lawyers regularly denied and family members are often unaware of where the detainee is being held.

Deaths and Disappearances

Being detained in Tibet can be like disappearing from the face of the earth. Tibetans are often imprisoned after unfair trials and authorities do not provide information about why they have been arrested and where they are. Family members often do not know that their relatives have been detained, and those that do find out are not permitted to visit the prison.

Isolated from the world, Tibetan prisoners are at grave risk of torture and being killed in prison. In July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, one of Tibet’s most high-profile political prisoners and a victim of torture, died suddenly in prison, thirteen years into a 22-year sentence. Calls from international governments and organisations for medical parole had been ignored. Authorities then cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s remains against his family’s wishes. Authorities have also withheld bodies of other Tibetans that have died in custody, due to fears that the body will reveal evidence of mistreatment and the manner of their death. Families of deceased prisoners have also been threatened and told not to reveal any details of the death.

Torture and the Law

Torture is forbidden under international law. The UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment define torture as:

'For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.'

Torture is also forbidden under Chinese law. China’s Criminal Procedure Law sets out a clear prohibition on the use of torture and Article 18 of this law explicitly describes torture as a “crime” that should be investigated.

Despite these obligations, in practice, Free Tibet has repeatedly found that torture of Tibetan prisoners continues while those responsible for it go unpunished. We have found no instance of any official being prosecuted for conducting or supporting torture in Tibet.

Case Studies

Read our case studies here, including written versions of the video testimonies as well as others included in our 2015 submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

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