TCHRD Releases 2009 Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in Tibet

The year 2009 was no different when it comes to violation of human rights of the Tibetan people inside Tibet by the Chinese authorities. For Tibetans inside Tibet it’s been yet another year of heightened security, repression, isolation and suppression. The year encapsulated with numbers of highly sensitive anniversaries in Chinese calendar was dealt with an iron fist. The year 2009 marked 50 years of exile for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. In five decades the Tibetan people have suffered enormous hardships and systematic human rights abuses by the government of People’s Republic of China (PRC). Human rights violations continue unabated with impunity and there is no sign of let up by the government.

During the year 2009, fast track courts in Tibet issued death penalty to five Tibetans for their participation in the spring 2008 protests. Turning deaf ears to the global appeals to overturn the death penalty, China went ahead to execute four Tibetans. The Chinese state media confirmed the execution of only two Tibetans whereas the Centre had earlier received information on the execution of four Tibetans. With that China outshined its notoriety as the world’s leading practitioner of death penalty, carrying out more executions than all the other nations in the world put together. The state aggressively exhibits its right to sovereignty through its implementation of death sentences despite international appeals and a UN General Assembly resolution on global moratorium on death penalty. This was evident from the numerous executions carried out in Tibet, East Turkestan and that of a Briton with mental disorder for whom the British government sought clemency.

The Chinese authorities took stringent measures and heightened vigorous patrolling of the border areas. The number of refugees’ exodus from Tibet has dropped significantly in over the past couple of years. As against the usual average of around 2000 Tibetans fleeing Tibet, during the year 2009 only 691 Tibetans managed to escape and reached Dharamsala while 627 fled Tibet in 2008. Such dwindling numbers in the outflow of refugees over the past few years can be directly attributed to the government tightening control of the border area, enormous risk involved for Tibetans attempting to flee Tibet and Nepalese government’s full compliance to it’s giant Asian neighbor’s call for the “Great Wall of Stability in Tibet” to combat ‘separatism” by checking the flight of illegal Tibetans across the border and anti-Chinese activities by Tibetan dissidents in Nepalese territory..

Over the past few years, dominance of political activities has shifted from the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region” (“TAR”) to Tibetan areas outside the “TAR” designate. This is clearly evident from the total number of arrests, detentions and sentencing statistics maintained by the TCHRD. Although it is certain that the total figures may be far greater than that documented by the Centre, a total of 1,542 known Tibetans continue to remain in detention or are serving prison sentences since spring 2008. Out of the total, 53.17% (or 820 Tibetans) were from Sichuan province, the rest are as follows: 19.90% (307 Tibetans) were from Gansu, 9.01% (139 Tibetans) belonged to Qinghai, 0.19% (3 Tibetans) were from Yunnan and 17.70% (273 Tibetans) belonged to the “TAR”. Additionally the figures for known Tibetans who were legally sentenced since spring 2008 also point to the fact that Sichuan has indeed been most active politically.

The year 2009 had been a year of legal convictions following the pan-Tibet Spring 2008 protests in Tibet. According to the Centre’s documentation, there are hundreds of Tibetans who are still held without any charges and at least 334 Tibetans were known to have been sentenced by courts at various levels to varying prison terms ranging from few months to death sentence. Of these, 161 Tibetans (or 48.20%) were from Ngaba and Kardze “TAP” under Sichuan Province. whereas Tibetans from “TAR” constituted 125 of the total or 37.42% and a total of 29 or 8.68% were Tibetans from Qinghai, and 17 Tibetans or 5.08% were from Gansu Province, one Tibetan from Yunnan, the origin of one Tibetan sentenced remains unknown. High arbitrariness in the sentencing of numerous Tibetans clearly exposes the summary nature of judiciary in Chinese administered Tibet. It bring forward the focus that judicial apparatus in China is politically motivated and hence dealt with extreme harshness with people’s aspiration for fundamental human rights.

In almost all the known cases the defendants had no independent legal counsel and in a few cases where the defendants were being represented by a lawyer of choice, the authorities ensured that these representations were blocked either through intimidation or through procedural tactics. One of the most high profile cases in 2009 was the sentencing of Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche to eight and a half years prison term. Rinpoche’s lawyer from Beijing was barred from representing him and in a closed door trial the court sentenced him to a fixed imprisonment term on charges of “possessing weapons” and “embezzlement” which he flatly denied.

During the year, the Chinese authorities targeted, detained and sentenced Tibetan writers, artistes, internet bloggers and publishers who did not engage in overt protest activity, but who sought to explore and express Tibetan views on issues that affect Tibetan people’s rights, culture, religion and Tibet’s fragile environment. They were mostly charged for “leaking state secret” and for activities which are otherwise a standard practice of expression of opinion or belief. Some of the most prominent cases were those of sentencing of Kunga Tsangyang to a five year imprisonment term for writing essays and photographing environmental degradation in Tibet, Kunchok Tsephel Gopeytsang to 15 years for running Chonmei website, Kang Kunchok, the former editor of Gangsai Meiduo to two years of prison term. Tashi Rabten, editor of a banned literary magazine and author of “Written in Blood” has remained disappeared since July 2009, Dokru Tsultrim, editor of literary magazine “Life of Snow” was arrested in April 2009, Tashi Dondrup, singer who released an album “Torture without Trace” was arrested in December 2009, Gyaltsen and Nyima Wangdue were sentenced to three prison terms for posting Dalai Lama pictures on the popular Chinese chat site, Five monks from Tsakho and Khakhor Monasteries continue to be detained for producing a VCD entitled Chakdrum Marpo.

Video testimonials are becoming popular for their sheer effectiveness in communication, coupled with authenticity of watching and hearing a real individual speaking in front of the camera. In 2008, the defiant Labrang monk Jigme Gyatso fearlessly spoke about torture in detention in a video testimonial; Dhondup Wangchen documented many Tibetans video testimonials regarding their concerns in his documentary “Leaving Fear Behind”; Kelsang Tsultrim of Gitsang Gaden Choekhorling Monastery recorded his testimonials in July 2009 and distributed it widely in his locality; Ven. Rinchen Sangpo recorded video testimonials of Tibetans in Golok region in October 2008 which were released in September 2009. It should be noted that this trend is a desperate attempt by Tibetans inside Tibet to have their voice heard in the absence of independent human rights monitors or media and international observers. Surge in availability of pictures and video evidences coupled with the growing trend of video testimonials indicate an encouraging rise in citizen journalism in Tibet.

Torture remains endemic in Chinese administered Tibet. Despite the denial of use of torture by the Chinese authorities and the claim of restraint in dealing with the Tibetan protesters, video evidences smuggled out of Tibet utterly shocked the entire world regarding the painful death of a young Tibetan, Mr. Tendar, due to torture inflicted upon him while in detention. The Chinese authorities blatantly denied use of extreme force upon the Tibetan demonstrators during the spring 2008 uprising in Tibet. The government ignored a joint communication by seven United Nations mandates on protection of human rights and the UN Committee against Torture’s demand for answers by the government regarding the use of excessive force and killings of Tibetan demonstrators particularly in Ngaba County, Kardze County and Lhasa.

Freedom of religion is severely curtailed in present day Tibet. The Chinese authorities’ tactic of intimidation, restriction of religious activities and movements of monks and nuns in religious institutions ensures the steady decline in the quality of religious education. The continued stringent enforcement of “patriotic re-education” campaign ensures a bleak and dark future for Tibetan Buddhism. In order to achieve “stability”, the authorities continue to primarily target the monastic community under various government campaigns to “reform” and bring the community under control and inculcate “love for the motherland”. The infamous “patriotic re-education” campaign was intensified during the year resulting in widespread violation of freedom of religious worship and beliefs. In deliberate moves, the government officials order the monks to denounce their own spiritual guru, to abuse their highly respected lamas and perform acts which are otherwise prohibited under monastic vows and code of conduct, in the name of “patriotic re-education” initiated by the Chinese as a requisite for continuing as a monk or a nun. The religious persecution in Tibet’s religious institutions is evident from the fact that suicides of monks and nuns in Buddhist Tibet has been on rise since spring 2008 protests in Tibet. The extreme psychological trauma and imposition of irreconcilable demands on the monastic community force the monks and nuns to take the ultimate step despite the fact that Tibetan Buddhists believe suicide to be one of the most heinous forms of sins that violate the cardinal precepts of the doctrine.

In an ethnically exclusionary economic growth, the development projects do not bring direct benefit to the Tibetans. The Chinese administrators in Tibet in calculated and deliberate allocation of resources award most contracts to out-of-province state-owned enterprises rather than to locally owned and operated businesses. The state is obsessed with projects involving resource extractions rather than the development of human capacity. This is evident in the UN Human Development Report in where Tibet’s human development index is at the bottom of all of the PRC’s provinces. The high level of illiteracy results in Tibetans being at a significant disadvantage in protecting their human rights and in enjoying the rights of citizenship. Making the matter worse is the fact that ethnic Han Chinese continue to hold top CCP positions in nearly all counties and prefectures making it ever difficult for Tibetans to have a say in decision making.

In the name of “progress”, resettlement programs by the government has been uprooting and disrupting traditional Tibetan ways of life at a fast pace. In violation of international laws on development, these displacements occur without compensation and consent of the affected population. Also of utmost concern is the unavailability of affordable health care for the Tibetans. This is particularly problematic in Tibet’s predominantly rural areas. Ever mindful of presenting a positive image of Tibet to the outside world, PRC focuses its resources and attention on the cities that attract the most tourists.

Under the rule of government of PRC, education in Tibet has deteriorated immensely as it has been treated as a vehicle to propagate and strengthen CCP’s grip on Tibet. The poor condition of the schools, low quality of teaching and designing of a curriculum to brainwash the children in socialist ideologies and discouragement of children from speaking their own language and learning their own history triggers the painful decision to flee into exile where there is an opportunity of receiving broad-based modern education. Under such painful circumstances parents send their children, oftentimes never to see them again, trusting strangers and guides to make the treacherous journey across the Himalayas where they will be admitted in the network of schools run by the exile Tibetan government.

Disparities and inequality in education has resulted in the further economic marginalization of Tibetans and they are precluded from employment opportunities on account of inferior education forced upon them. Since the Chinese settlers possess advanced education and Chinese language abilities, many Tibetans are unable to compete with them in getting jobs. Unless the government ensures to meet its obligations to provide the Tibetan children with their fundamental right to an education, children will continue to risk their lives by making the dangerous journey over the Himalayas to receive education in exile.

The Information Office of the China’s State Council on 13 April 2009 release of “The First Working Action Plan on Human Rights Protection 2009-2010” was a welcome initiative. This document promised citizens more legal protection, better livelihoods, greater civil and political rights, including rights of detainees and the right to a fair trial. While it is encouraging to note that the government put forward a benchmark document, it is equally concerning to find China’s failure to implement the protection enshrined in its law especially in the light of the summary executions carried out in Tibet and East Turkestan. The document lists the theoretical improvements along with age-old rhetoric on remarkable achievements made in the field of human rights protection and enjoyment of human rights and freedom in accordance with law at an opportune time, the international community waits for China to prove that it is not the same wine in a different bottle.

2009 was the year when the United Nations focused strongly on the issue of racism worldwide. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navinatham Pillay, in her statement on the International Human Rights Day on the theme of concept of non-discrimination reckoned that “Minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats, discrimination and racism, and are frequently excluded from fully taking part in the economic, political, social and cultural life available to the majorities in the countries or societies where they live.

Click here to read the full report.

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