On 25 April 2017, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) released a special report titled “Prisoners of Conscience in Tibet” on the 28th birthday of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Who went missing 22 years ago along with his parents after they were detained by Chinese officials in Tibet. The Panchen Lama’s case has become one of the world’s longest enforced disappearances, the answer to which is considered a top state secret by the Chinese government.
Considering the rising number of prisoners of conscience in Tibet, TCHRD has compiled a special report that can be read as an update to the 2006 report and when read together may present an overview of the political prisoner crisis in Tibet since Chinese occupation.
This report focuses on the mistreatment of political prisoners in Tibet. The PRC maintains that they have not taken any political prisoners, but that they are solely arresting criminals. TCHRD rejects the label of criminals to define the Tibetan imprisoned for exercising their conscience. Based on reasons given for arrests, a more accurate description would be political prisoners, or human rights defenders. A human rights defender can be an individual, or group of people, working peacefully to promote human rights in their communities, countries, internationally, or anywhere in the world. Human rights defenders can range from individuals, international NGOs, and governmental organizations. A human rights defender who has been deprived of their liberty through detention as a result of their beliefs, their non-violent exercise of rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), their status in society, or for purely demonstrating their rights and freedoms. To put it simply, a political prisoner is an imprisoned human rights defender. Prisoners arrested solely for expressing their human rights, may be grouped into a sub-category of political prisoners: prisoners of conscience. Prisoners of conscience are the focus of many NGOs, and are the category of prisoners which many organizations request be set free without conditions. The initial arrest and continuous detention of these people violates international law.
Tibetans are detained for many reasons, among the most common are: acknowledging or possessing images of the Dalai Lama, possessing a Tibetan flag or drawings of it, voicing environmental concerns, suspicion of inciting homicide, suspicion of planning a self-immolation, violating state secrecy laws or advocating for the rights of other Tibetans. Reasons for detention are often political with the purpose of oppressing Tibetans and include participating in street protests, and handing out leaflets or posters that criticize the government.
The full text of the report can be downloaded here.