Two prisoners in Tibet’s Drapchi Prison died instantly on May 4, 1998, when prison officials opened fire on unarmed prisoners staging a protest in the prison. Sources from Tibet report that 200 other prisoners were seriously injured in the shooting and beatings used to suppress the revolt. The identities of the dead prisoners are unknown.
Earlier reports stated that the May 4 protest was begun by a group of 80 Drapchi prisoners from units 5 and 6. The group reportedly disrupted a prison function commemorating “Youth Day” by shouting slogans and pasting posters around the prison. Recent information indicates that the protesters distributed pamphlets and demanded the release of prisoners who had been placed in solitary confinement following an earlier protest in Drapchi on May 1.
Prison guards reportedly called in Peoples Armed Police (PAP) to help suppress the May 4 outbreak and then opened fire on the prisoners, killing two prisoners instantly. Four other prisoners were shot in the leg. The prisoners were also beaten with iron rods, sticks, bayonets and shocked with electric cattle prods. Sources reported that more than 200 prisoners were seriously injured and that the floors of the prison were smeared with blood. They said the prison cells were filled with injured prisoners but that no medical treatment was provided.
Just three days earlier a similar protest had broken out in Drapchi Prison in which Chinese authorities also opened fire on unarmed protesters. The May 1 demonstration occurred during a gathering of Drapchi prisoners for an International Labour Day ceremony and was reportedly led by two non-political prisoners in protest against the hoisting of Chinese flags in the prison.
The two prisoners, Karma Dawa (known as Kadar) who was serving 13 years and Karma Sonam, reportedly started throwing pamphlets amongst the crowd which read “Free Tibet”, “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama” and “Chinese leave Tibet” and shouting similar slogans. The protesting prisoners were also said to be demonstrating their solidarity with the group of Tibetan exiles conducting a hunger-strike in Delhi, India.
In an attempt to break up the protest, PAP and Public Security Bureau officials began firing shots in the air and using bayonets, sticks, metal rods and electric cattle prods against the prisoners. Earlier information indicated that approximately 150 Tibetan political prisoners were fired upon and subsequently arrested. More recent reports say that 500 prisoners were present during the shooting. The protest resulted in some prisoners, including Kadar and Karma Sonam, being confined in dark solitary cells and the implementation of strict restrictions in Drapchi. The number of casualties was unknown.
According to reports by Tibet Information Network (TIN), an independent organisation based in London, a non-political prisoner called Aka led the May 1 Drapchi protest which TIN reported was joined by about 60 political prisoners. TIN reported that a number of prisoners were beaten, leading to the hospitalisation of two prisoners, one of whom subsequently died in hospital.
TIN also reported that a demonstration occurred in Outridu Prison, a detention centre within the Sangyip Prison complex in Lhasa, a few days after May 1. TIN referred to an unconfirmed report that prison guards in Outridu forced Tibetan prisoners who had been brought from Drapchi to make prostrations in front of the Chinese flag and were later badly beaten. The prisoners had reportedly been transferred from Drapchi to Outridu prior to the visit of a delegation from the European Union to Drapchi on May 4.
These are not the first incidents in which prisoners attempting to stage protests during visits of foreign delegations have attracted violent crack downs. On April 27, 1991, Drapchi prisoners protested the solitary detention of Tenpa Wangdrak and Lobsang Tenzin following their attempt to hand a letter protesting prison conditions to the then US Ambassador to China, James Lilley. A large contingent of armed soldiers was called in and the protest violently suppressed. Prisoners were reportedly tied with rope and beaten unconscious, manacled and put in isolation cells.The latest information regarding the recent Drapchi incidents drew strong condemnation from Mr Lobsang Nyandak, Executive Director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Dharamsala, India. “The picture we are receiving is increasingly shocking,” said Mr Nyandak. “For years we have received reports of inhumane treatment of prisoners in Tibet and these latest deaths indicate a willingness by Chinese prison and security authorities to use the most violent measures available to suppress dissent,” he said, adding “This careless disregard for international standards regarding the treatment of prisoners is deplorable.”
The prisoners in Drapchi are reportedly greatly concerned for Karma Dawa and Karma Sonam who continue to be tortured by prison officials for their role in the protest. It is feared that they may receive the death penalty. Chinese authorities have provided no information in confirmation or denial of the reports of the two Drapchi incidents and one source has said that released prisoners as well as prison officials have been threatened with death if they speak of the incidents.