Drapchi Prison: Tibet’s Most Dreaded Prison

The year 1998 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ironically, in Drapchi Prison the same year, Chinese prison guards and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials violated all human rights norms with the use of brutal force on Tibetan prisoners. On the ill-fated days of 1 and 4 May 1998, the unarmed prisoners were indiscriminately fired upon, beaten, tortured, solitarily confined and their prison sentences extended for having called out for freedom. Eight political prisoners have since died due to severe torture inflicted during the protest incident.

Drapchi Prison is one of the three officially recognised prisons in Tibet, the other two being Lhasa Prison (earlier known as Outrido) and Powo Tramo in Tramo County, Nyingtri Prefecture (Ch: Pomi in Linzhi Prefecture). However, the actual number of prisons and detention centres in Tibet far outnumber the stated figure.

Considered a notorious dungeon of torture, Drapchi Prison has seven major units, with five units for criminal prisoners and two units for political prisoners – the first, second, fourth, sixth, and seventh for male criminal prisoners, the third for female prisoners, both political and criminal, and the firth unit for male political prisoners. The third and fifth units have been further divided into two sub-divisions each. The seven divisions are currently housed in eight cellblocks. Prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment or execution after two years of imprisonment are held in the first unit.

It is in Drapchi Prison that the majority of the freedom activists have been incarcerated and some have even lost their lives too. Contrary to the recent Chinese official’s claim of 115 political prisoners currently in Tibet, TCHRD estimated 252 political prisoners as of June 2001 who are currently imprisoned in various prisons, detention centres and labour camps. Out of which 129 political prisoners remain incarcerated in Drapchi Prison, including 26 female political prisoners.

A total number of 27 deaths and sentence extensions of 47 political prisoners have been recorded since 1987 in Drapchi Prison alone. The prison officials employ extensive torture methods to extract information from the prisoners as well as to curb their political sentiments and activism in the future. Several deaths have occurred while being tortured whereas others have gradually succumbed to their injuries resulting from the torture. There are others who have died with the prison torture haunting their memories and hampering their health, after their release.

The core objective of this report is to highlight the condition of political prisoners and the undue suffering they undergo in Chinese-administered prisons in Tibet. Taking into consideration the gravity of the prisoners’ condition, the report also intends to appeal to the United Nations, and various international organisations, to bear pressure on the Chinese government to release political prisoners and to stop the inhuman treatment meted out to them. The report is dedicated to the sacrifices made by the courageous Tibetans in the face of Chinese oppression. It is also a memory of the infamous protest in Drapchi Prison in May 1998.

Download the full report here.

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