Death in Detention

Death in detention special report cover

Since 2008 at least 29 known Tibetans1 have died as a result of torture during detention. These deaths have generally followed a pattern beginning with the detention and disappearance of the victim. Chinese law allows for the secret detention of people for up to six months without family members or lawyers knowing where the person is detained. During this period, when the victim is removed from any form of oversight, the treatment is the worst. Victims are subjected to beatings, shackled in stress positions, and electrocuted. After the initial detention, the victim is given a perfunctory trial. The trial, sometimes months after the initial detention, is sometimes the first opportunity for family members to learn about the charges, location, and health of their relative.

In the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the conviction rate increased from 98.98% in 2000 to 99.93% in 2013. This means that in many cases the trial merely marks the transfer of the detainee from an unknown detention facility to a prison. In prison the treatment of the detainees improves and the “interrogation sessions” are less frequent. However, detainees are still beaten and subjected to conditions that amount to torture—including the denial of medical care, starvation diets, and freezing cells.

At every stage of the process Tibetan political prisoners have died because of torture during detention. Chinese officials responsible for their deaths are not held accountable. Instead, officials are protected by efforts to conceal the cause and number of deaths in detention. Prisoners who are about to die are released on “medical parole” so that their death does not occur in a detention facility—even though it was caused by their treatment during detention. Tibetan political prisoners that die in detention sometimes have their bodies cremated before family members can see it or perform an autopsy. Other times, family members are threatened if they say anything about how their relative died. The efforts to hide cases of death in detention create a culture of impunity and make it impossible to know the exact number of cases. However, since the PRC’s periodic review by the Committee Against Torture in 2008, there have been 30 known cases of Tibetans dying in detention. In 2014, 11 Tibetans died in detention. There are probably more cases that have been successfully covered up. Each death is the product of a series of human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killing, and enforced disappearance. The PRC has repeatedly promised to improve prison conditions and prevent the use of torture and to punish torturers. It is clear from reports received from within PRC that these promises have been broken.

Read the special report here:

Death In Detention Special Report [English]