In March this year, a 30-yr-old Tibetan man called Tashi took his own life soon after his detention because he was unable to bear the torture inflicted on him in Chinese police custody. The same month, another Tibetan man named Ngodup Phuntsok aka Ngoe-ga, 61, was released from prison after eight years with crippled back and legs, unable to walk. Weeks before Ngoe-ga’s release, news surfaced that Chinese prison authorities had suddenly hospitalised the courageous monk Jigme Gyatso aka Jigme Guri just six months prior to his release. Jigme Gyatso was serving a five-year sentence for exposing human rights violations particularly Chinese torture methods in Tibet. There are fears that Jigme Gyatso might be subjected to medical torture or unnecessary treatment, and similar concerns have been expressed in regards to Dolma Tso, a 30-yr-old Tibetan woman who could be subjected to forced medical procedures. In late March this year, Tibetan language and culture advocate Tashi Wangchuk, 30, has not been heard or seen after being held in prolonged secret detention and charged of inciting separatism . Just last month, a Tibetan writer named Lobsang Jamyang (Pen-name: Lomik) was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for “leaking state secrets” and “engaging in separatist activities”; he had been held in secret detention since April 2015.
As we observe the anniversary of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture today, many other countless known and unknown Tibetans, like those mentioned above, remain at the mercy of their torturers languishing in various official and unofficial Chinese detention facilities without any access to legal representation, merely for exercising their basic human rights and engaging in legitimate activities. Despite the global condemnation and uproar over the death of a prominent Tibetan lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, last July, the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to subject Tibetans to torture, ill-treatment and other inhuman treatment and punishment.
Torture is universally prohibited in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention Against Torture). There are no circumstances that rationalise the existence of torture. Article 2, paragraph 2 states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” The PRC signed the Convention Against Torture in 1986 and officially ratified the convention into law in 1988. Additionally, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) reiterates the universal ban and states that there is no ignoring the prohibition on torture articulated in article 7, not even in times of public emergency.
Many Tibetans are charged of committing crimes against the State, and are accused of engaging in “separatist” and “subversive” activities. Although the Chinese perspective may be one of separatism and political instability, that mindset does not justify the use of torture. For Tibetans, the torture occurs merely because the detainee is a Tibetan, and seen by the state as a threat to “national security”. Nothing has changed since the report issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture after his visit to Tibet and China in 2005. In the report, the Special Rapporteur recommended that “Political crimes that leave large discretion to law enforcement and prosecution authorities such as endangering national security, subversion, undermining the unity of the country, supplying of state secrets to individuals abroad, etc. should be abolished.”
Last November, at its fifth periodic review before the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), the PRC again claimed that allegations of torture and ill-treatment of ‘ethnic minorities’ such as Tibetans and Uyghurs are ‘groundless’. Regardless of PRC’s claims, the UNCAT noted the numerous reports it had received that documented the cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans. The UNCAT then reiterated its call for accountability for the events during the 2008 protests in Tibet and pressed for investigations and accountability in relation to cases of deaths in detention, including that of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
On the occasion of the anniversary of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, TCHRD calls on the PRC to implement in law and practice the recommendations issued by the UN Committee Against Torture at the PRC’s fifth periodic review. The PRC must end extralegal practices and repeal laws that engender a culture of impunity among police and prison authorities to continue subjecting detainees to torture and ill-treatment. TCHRD remembers all victims of torture including Tibetan human rights defenders whose liberty, dignity and humanity were violated and their legitimate activities criminalised. Torture is wrong and there is no justification for such heinous crime.
In TCHRD’s documentary film on torture titled ‘Through Flesh and Bones’, the well-known Tibetan human rights defender Golog Jigme says, “[I]n] Tibet, Tibetans are unable to exercise their basic human rights. Tibetans are treated just like animals. They [Chinese authorities] don’t know how to treat Tibetans like human beings. We know we will be tortured like animals because that’s how the [Chinese] government sees us. And personally I have resolved not to let this kind of savage treatment break my spirit; I know torture would bring me down on my knees but the resolve to stand back on my two feet despite such painful experience has never wavered. It’s not just about me; every Tibetan has this courageous spirit to stand up in the face of extreme adversity. We have always known they [Chinese authorities] would treat us like animals. And we have always been determined to be human, standing up again on two feet, as full human beings.”