Tibetan monk’s account reveals rampant use of torture and sexual abuse in China’s ‘political re-education’ centres

A first-hand account written by a former detainee reveals the horror that goes on in the name of ‘legal education’ inside the secretive walls of ‘re-education centres’ established by Chinese authorities in Tibet.

Written by a monk whose identity is kept anonymous for security reasons, the account validates anecdotal evidence collected by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) in recent years on the existence of such extralegal centres used to educate ‘politically unreliable’ Tibetans. For instance, Tibetan writer and teacher Gangkye Drupa Kyab was forced to attend 15-day re-education classes soon after his release from prison in 2016. Likewise another former political prisoner was re-educated for more than two months for defying an official order that forced monks and nuns to leave monastic institutions located in Tibetan areas outside Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

The anonymous monk spent about four months in a re-education centre in Sog (Ch: Suo) County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR. In his account, he refers to these centres as “transformation through education” (Chinese: jiaoyu zhuanhua/教育转化; Tibetan: lobso yosang teyney khang/ སློབ་གསོ་ཡོ་བསྲང་ལྟེ་གནས་ཁང་) training centres. All inmates at the re-education centre where he was imprisoned at the time were monks and nuns except for “two or three laypersons”. He was among many other monks and nuns forced to return home and abandon studies in monastic institutions located outside TAR in the past several years. The monk was pursuing his education in Tsongon (Ch: Qinghai) Province when he was ordered to return to Sog County or face severe consequences:

Without breaking any law and exercising legitimate rights, I had gone to pursue education in Tsongon [Qinghai]. But I was forcibly taken back to my hometown in 13 July 2017. I was told that those who did not return would have their family including their parents and siblings arrested. Children from such families will be denied school admission. Families will also be barred from harvesting caterpillar fungus. I had no choice but to return in the face of such repressive directives.

On his arrival in Sog County, an officer from the State Security Bureau (SSB) took the monk to a newly built “transformation through education” training centre. The monk was allowed to take nothing except his clothes, towel, toothpaste and toothbrush:

The State Security Bureau officer said to me, “The place you are going to is a school, not a prison.”

The monk soon realized that the re-education center was a prison and all he received in the form of education were attempts to neutralize the faith and loyalty for Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

We had to attend classes. Lessons focussed more on chastising us and denouncing Rinpoche [His Holiness the Dalai Lama]. Laws and regulations were taught superficially and there was little in legal education that could actually benefit us. Sometimes the officers looked like a bunch of petulant kids. Witnessing a powerful nation [China] engage in secret denunciation campaigns against an elderly monk [His Holiness the Dalai Lama] living in distant land makes one cry and laugh at the same time.

Classes were conducted in Chinese language and involved self-criticism sessions in the style of ‘struggle sessions’ employed by Chinese during the early years of occupation in 1950s and during the Cultural Revolution:

Sometimes during evening classes, we were subjected to ‘struggle sessions’ reminiscent of 1959 and sometimes we had to participate in military drills. I always felt compassion for the older monks and nuns. In addition to not understanding Chinese language, they were physically weak due to which they always became the target of beatings at the hands of the detention officers.

Sexual abuse is apparently rampant in the re-education centres and is particularly targeted against the nuns:

Many nuns would lose consciousness during the [military] drills. Sometimes officers would take unconscious nuns inside where I saw them fondle the nuns’ breasts and grope all over their body.

During one of the drills, all nuns collapsed, losing consciousness. In no time, the officers rushed forward to take the nuns inside. Who knows what else they did to the nuns? But I have heard about some officers lying in the nuns’ bedroom pressing unconscious nuns underneath.

All inmates had to wear military-style uniforms for which they have to pay from their own pockets. A set of the uniform cost the monk RMB 150. The monk’s account also confirms the authenticity of a 2016 video of Tibetan nuns in military-style uniform singing a popular ‘red song’ of China’s official Tibetan soprano Tseten Dolma: