After over two years in detention Chinese authorities have today sentenced Tibetan language advocate,Tashi Wangchuk, to five years’ imprisonment  on politically motivated charges of ‘inciting separatism’ after he publicly sought to realise his right… Meer
Tashi Wangchuk, a 32-year old Tibetan shopkeeper and advocate for the rights of Tibetans to learn and study in the Tibetan language, went on trial in Yushu, Tibet on 4 January 2018, charged with ‘inciting separatism’. The trial closed without a verdict being announced. He faces a possible sentence of up to 15 years.
A translation of an update about the trial, tweeted by Tashi Wangchuk’s lawyer Liang Xiaojun , reads: “The trial of Tashi Wangchuk in the crime of inciting separatism has ended, which took 4 hours from 9:30 to 13:30. The judge announced the court to be closed and the day of sentence will be chosen afterward. The trial was conducted in Mandarin, and the video “A Tibetan’s Journey to Justice” [by the New York Times, see Note 2] was screened to the court as evidence. Other related evidence was also shown. The prosecution, the defense and Tashi Wangchuk himself have all expressed their points of view. Tashi’s expression was very clear and his views were concise.”
Please sign and share this petition: https://actions.tibetnetwork.org/nl/president-macron-help-tashi-wangchuk
“Tashi Wangchuk’s trial today is a complete outrage and we call on all those governments who have expressed concern about Tashi Wangchuk to urgently step up their efforts to secure his release. We especially appeal to French President, Emmanuel Macron, to raise Tashi Wangchuk directly with Xi Jinping when he visits China from 8 January”, said Alison Reynolds, International Tibet Network Executive Director. “Tashi Wangchuk is an innocent man who has already suffered nearly two years in detention for doing nothing more than advocating for rights which are meant to be protected by the Chinese constitution.”
Tashi Wangchuk was detained on 27 January 2016 after a New York Times article and video report  about his journey to Beijing to file a formal complaint against Chinese officials for failing to support Tibetans’ right to Tibetan language education. Despite the fact that he explicitly expressed in the report that he was not calling for Tibetan independence, Tashi Wangchuk was arrested and charged with the highly politically motivated ‘offence’ of “inciting separatism”, a charge that “criminalize(s) the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and his defense of cultural rights”, according to UN experts. 
Tashi Wangchuk’s case has been raised by multiple governments,  and leading up to his trial Tibet Groups have been urging their embassies in Beijing to send representation to the court. Canada and the EU Delegation among others sent diplomats to Yushu. His case was also raised by five UN Special Procedures mandate holders, who jointly expressed “serious concern at the arrest, the initial incommunicado detention and the continued detention of Tashi Wangchuk, as well as his limited right to counsel, the denial of presenting the evidence against him and the irregularities in the criminal investigation”.  Tashi’s trial took place later than expected, with the Court previously taking the unusual step of sending the case back to prosecutors for more verification. 
Tashi’s lawyers, who had limited access to him during his pre-trial detention, reported that he was tortured and suffered extreme inhuman and degrading treatment during the first week of detention. He was initially held in for a lengthy period in a ‘tiger chair’ where he was subjected to arduous interrogation, and was repeatedly beaten by two Tibetan police officers. His interrogators threatened him with harming his family. 
“Tashi Wangchuk has shown enormous tenacity in his battle to progress the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people; a tenacity that China clearly finds highly threatening, despite his actions being entirely within the Chinese Constitution. Tibet Groups around the world are doing everything they can to press for Tashi’s safe and immediate, unconditional release. Every day that he remains in detention is a day when he is at risk of torture and inhumane treatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities,” said Mandie McKeown, International Tibet Network.
Chinese policies that undermine education in the Tibetan language run counter to provisions in China’s own laws, specifically the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law. Protections for language and culture included in Chinese law are routinely not implemented in Tibet. These policies also violate the international right to cultural rights of Tibetans living under Chinese rule. 
Tashi Wangchuk was awarded the ‘Tenzin Delek Rinpoche Medal of Courage’ in July 2017, an annual award  given to Tibetan human rights defenders who show deep commitment to enhancing the freedom and rights of the Tibetan people at great personal risk. The award is named in honour of the late Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who died in custody after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit.
 Liang Xiaojun on Twitter: https://twitter.com/liangxiaojun/status/948796514200993793
 New York Times: “A Tibetan’s Jouney for Justice” https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/asia/100000004031427/a-tibetans-journey-for-justice.html
 Communication by UN Special Rapporteurs covering a range of mandates including on torture, human rights defenders, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, cultural and minority rights and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
 EU Beijing Delegation Statement: https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/eu-delegation-to-china-statement-on-international-human-rights-day and US Beijing Embassy Statement: http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/mobile/ambassador-human-rights-day-statement-2016.html
 See 2.
 New York Times, ‘Chinese Prosecutors Ask Court for More Time in Detained Tibetan’s Case‘, 28 December 2016, https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/12/28/world/asia/tashi-wangchuk-tibet-china.html
 Background Briefing 2017: Tibetan human rights defender Tashi Wangchuk, International Tibet Network, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1V42KWh8A1MxcSYTaJyMP2v1mhZGwa9qHlj7i9ESCnDs/
 See more on pages 11-15 of the Human Rights Action Plan for Tibet – https://issuu.com/internationaltibetnetwork/docs/itn_un_hrap-t_nobleed
In the five years following China’s once-a-decade leadership change in 2012, Xi Jinping has become more powerful than any of China’s leaders of the last 25 years, and looks set to further consolidate this power at the 19th Party Congress of October 2017.
Xi’s leadership has been characterised by a wholesale effort to silence dissent across a range of issues, not least relating to China’s continued occupation of restive Tibet. Human rights experts widely agree that the situation in Tibet and across China has sharply deteriorated since 2012, perhaps illustrated most starkly by the deaths in custody of highly prominent human rights defenders; the Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and Tibetan buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.
In his inauguration speech on 15 November 2012, Xi Jinping made clear that his leadership represented a new, clean start, and he began his tenure with a war on corruption. This was a well-calculated move that gained him the favour and approval of the Chinese people, since corruption is extremely widespread and pervades almost every aspect of the social, political and economic life of the country.
It is now widely believed that Xi Jinping has used this anti-corruption campaign to consolidate his overwhelming influence and silence any opposition; attacking, replacing and imprisoning under the accusation of corruption anyone who might represent a threat to his growing power.
While his anti-corruption campaign has been carried out throughout China, since 2012 Xi Jinping has paid even greater attention to silencing opposition in the restive areas of Tibet, East Turkestan (CH: Xinjiang) and Hong Kong, where Beijing has always struggled to maintain “social stability”.
For the past five years, Chinese authorities have implemented harsh directives from Beijing that aim to silence opposition and increase China’s stranglehold of Tibet. Following a decades-long trail of violent crackdowns, de-facto martial law, widespread arbitrary imprisonments and neglect of the most basic human rights, Xi Jinping has sought to tighten his grip over Tibet responding to any dissent or peaceful, non-violent protests with violence and imprisonment.
Check out the website: www.XiFailsTibet.org
Similarly, Beijing regularly increases military presence in Tibet at sensitive times: the most recent example for this trend is the “huge military exercise in Lhasa ahead of the 19th Party Congress” carried out on 26 September 2017 and reported by Tibetan activist and blogger Woeser. Chinese officials at the military display used the event to publicly pledge “loyalty to the Party, keeping the mission firmly in mind, countering terrorism and violence, governing borderland and stabilising Tibet”.
Official statistics show that China’s military and security presence has dramatically expanded across Tibet since 2012, arbitrary imprisonments have increased in number and torture has been found to be in widespread practice in prisons and detention centers, so much so that between 2013 and 2015 as many as fourteen Tibetan political prisoners died while in detention. Everyday activities, including education and religion, are heavily monitored, and a “grid surveillance system” has been put in place in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and is currently under expansion in parts of Qinghai Province.
Under Xi, the violent crackdown on human rights in Tibet has been paralleled by a top-down economic development approach, which has alienated even further the largely rural Tibetan population.
Millions of Tibetan nomads, the traditional stewards of the Tibetan grasslands, have been forced to relocate to sedentary lives in “New Socialist Villages” giving up their livelihood and livestock. China’s main justification for resettlement policies are economic but it has also been made clear that the policies are an integral part of larger political objectives to combat “separatist” sentiment among Tibetans, and are designed to strengthen political control over the Tibetan rural population.
Tibetan rivers, fundamental to local herders and communities’ livelihoods, have been diverted and dammed to fuel Chinese megacities and factories through hydroelectric, “clean” power, and unregulated mining activities are widespread across the Tibetan plateau, severely damaging the fragile Tibetan ecosystem.
Infrastructure development on the plateau is aimed at bringing millions of tourists to Tibet: Lhasa, with a total population of one million, is estimated to receive as many as 13 million domestic Chinese tourists each year, overcrowding a city where financial gains and profits are largely kept in the hands of Chinese private investors, leaving local Tibetans with little if any sustainable profit.
While the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the other parts of Tibet have seen a substantial increase in their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), economic development has mainly benefited Chinese investors and a limited proportion of the Tibetan population. The bulk of the Tibetan population is bearing the brunt of development, whilst the authorities have systematically and violently silenced any form of opposition.
It is important to notice that GDP growth in Tibet is strongly subsidised by the central government. Subsidies account for a substantial part of the TAR GDP and they have steadily increased since 2008: for example, in 2010 central subsidies accounted for more than 100% of the province’s GDP, while the 2017 budget for the TAR reports an increase of 22.3% in state subsidies. These figures show that the TAR economy heavily relies on government aid, and its growth is far from sustainable.
This report highlights China’s policy failures in Tibet; policies that over nearly seven decades of unfettered control have left Tibetans resolutely opposed to China’s rule. The number of solo protests against China’s rule and self-immolations carried out across Tibet has increased in the five years since Xi Jinping’s appointment. Xi is presiding over a Tibet in crisis, devastated by five generations of colonial exploitation but possessing a population whose sense of the Tibetan nation, and whose spirit and diverse resistance to China’s rule is undiminished since the day the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet nearly 70 years ago.
Xi Jinping must now recognize that the impact of continuing the same path will only result in greater resistance in Tibet and that his failure to uphold essential human rights should be met by growing international condemnation of his leadership.
How Xi is Failing Tibet
“[We] should thoroughly fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique by firmly relying on all ethnic groups… and completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardise national unity”
Xi Jinping, July 2011
Suffocation of Dissent
Under Xi’s propaganda campaigns, aimed at building and disseminating a positive, benevolent and rosy image of him both nationally and internationally, his persona has been strengthened and an image created that is at odds with the reality of Xi’s Presidency. Xi, rather than a saviour of the global order, has rigidly silenced dissent, most widely through institutional mechanisms that “legalise” crackdowns on any kind of opposition.
Following the Tibetan Uprisings of 2008, when hundreds of non-violent demonstrations against China’s rule took place across Tibet, Beijing implemented a ‘stability maintenance’ policy to give authorities legal means to arrest thousands of individuals under charges of “terrorism” or as a “threat to national stability”. As a result thousands of Tibetans from all walks of life – lay and religious alike – have and continue to be routinely arrested for minor acts of resistance.
Arrest and imprisonment of Tibetans in Tibet can be for the simplest of actions such as storing a picture of the Dalai Lama on a mobile phone or celebrating his birthday , discussing the Tibetan exile government on social media protesting against mining activities, advocating for the teaching of Tibetan language in schools or calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
Even protests that, under China’s own constitution, should be deemed lawful, and do not seek to challenge the occupation of Tibet, receive politically motivated reactions and are widely labeled as “endangering state security’”, “splittism” or even “terrorism” by the authorities, resulting in serious charges and severe sentences for those who carry out simple non-violent protests or actions.
An example is the case of Tashi Wangchuk, a young Tibetan shop keeper currently awaiting trial who was charged with “inciting separatism” after he openly urged for greater Tibetan language education in schools. If found guilty he faces up to 15 years in prison. Tashi Wangchuk was detained on 27 January 2016 after criticising China’s failure to adhere to its own Constitution in which the right to an education in the Tibetan language is guaranteed. However Chinese has increasingly become the predominant language of instruction in Tibet, often being the exclusive language taught. In 2015 the New York Times featured Tashi Wangchuk and the work he was doing to push for Tibetan language rights, in which – although critical of China’s language policies – he had never written about Tibetan independence. His case is a striking example of the severity of the persecution Tibetans face for simply calling for their rights under Chinese law; rights that are perceived as a threat by the Chinese government despite the fact they are protected by international human rights laws and under the Chinese Constitution.
China’s focus on the threat of Tibetan “separatism” was underlined in the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August 2015, in which the Dalai Lama was specifically blamed for “anti-separatist” activities and the importance of “stability” was emphasized, described by the International Campaign for Tibet as “political language for the elimination of dissent and enforcement of compliance to Chinese Communist Party policies”.
A Human Rights Watch report published in 2016 argues that the provocative measures adopted by China to ensure ’stability’ are contributing to, rather than crushing, unrest in Tibet. In “Relentless: Detention and Prosecution of Tibetans under China’s ‘Stability Maintenance’ campaign”, Human Rights Watch illustrated China’s significant increase in state control over daily life through the deployment of more than 21,000 party officials across the TAR and 10,000 in Qinghai Province, in a capillary surveillance scheme known as the grid system. Party officials are now installed in virtually every village and monastery of Tibet, and are ready to report on every act of opposition to Xi Jinping taking place on the plateau.
With at least 479 Tibetans detained for political reasons in the period 2013 – 2015, Human Rights Watch concluded “the implementation of these measures appears to explain many of the new patterns of detention, prosecution, and sentencing documented. It was only after the rural phase of the stability maintenance policy in the TAR was implemented from late 2011 that the number of protests and resulting detentions and convictions increased dramatically in that region.”
While the majority of Tibetans who are arrested every year have carried out minor acts of dissent, those who receive the harshest sentences are the individuals who engage in or are accused of supporting self-immolation protests. The first self immolation protest in Tibet took place in 2009, but there was a dramatic increase in such protests during 2011, peaking in 2012 as Xi Jinping became China’s top leader.
To date, there have been at least 150 confirmed self-immolation protests in Tibet, in which many of those individuals protesting call for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama. It is possible that this number may be higher due to the difficulties of information reaching exiled communities: sharing information regarding protests and self-immolations often leads to a prison sentence under the accusation of revealing “state secrets” with “overseas terrorist groups”.
“Collective Punishment”, or the deliberate targeting of families and communities of self-immolation protesters, escalated in 2013, with harsh directives issued in the Tibetan areas of Driru  and Dzoege detailing threats ranging from losing the right to cultivate land or access jobs, investment in the community, to prohibitions on individual freedoms that would result in punishment.
State control also extends to journalists and foreigners who are barred access to Tibet at sensitive times including during the 19th Party Congress. China’s government also habitually bans entry to Tibet to foreigners in the month of March, being the anniversary of several major Uprisings against China’s rule, notably in 1959 and 2008.
Outside of such closures, journalists are rarely able to report first hand on the situation in Tibet due to restrictions on media access. State run media tours for foreign journalists are infrequent and often limited to handpicked media outlets, with those participating prevented from travelling freely or talking to locals not pre-selected by the authorities. Simon Denyer of the Washington Post wrote how he was able to livestream on Facebook during a visit in 2016, but also about the restrictions he experienced first hand: “At the turnoff to the monastery, police were waiting for us, briefly questioned us and then sent us back to the hotel. At least six security officials were stationed in the lobby and at the hotel gate to make sure we didn’t leave again. Clearly, officials in Nyingchi were determined to prevent us from speaking to any monks.” 
To silence dissent outside of Tibet, Xi Jinping is directing a strong and consistent crackdown on human rights activists across China, East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Hong Kong. Since July 2015 more than 250 Chinese human rights lawyers have been arbitrarily arrested, often kept incommunicado, tortured and forced to provide fake confessions. East Turkestan is currently under intense security and information about the condition of prominent Uyghur political prisoner, the academic Ilham Tohti imprisoned for life in 2014, is non-existent. Security around the home of Southern Mongolian dissident, Hada, who is under house arrest, was reportedly stepped up in recent weeks. China has taken steps to silence democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, with 16 activists including three prominent student leaders jailed in August 2017. In events that have further soured cross-Straits relations, Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh – who had disappeared in China in March 2017 – this month confessed to “subverting state power” by disseminating articles critical of China’s Communist Party and promoting democracy. China’s escalation of legislation to tighten political control prompted four governments and the EU to write to Xi Jinping and express concern about proposed laws on “counter-terrorism”, cyber-security and the control of foreign NGOs.
Political Detention and Deaths in Custody
The conditions in prisons and detentions centres in Tibet, and the treatment of Tibetan political prisoners, are extremely poor. Testimonies from former political prisoners collected by a variety of NGOs detail evidence of the widespread use of torture as a method to extract confessions. Reports indicate political prisoners are regularly beaten and there are repeated instances of detainees being subjected to electric shocks, being hung from the ceiling for periods lasting several hours, and shackled to a “Tiger” or interrogation chair.
In 2015 the UN Committee against Torture reviewed China and concluded that torture is “deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system” emphasising the ”numerous reports from credible sources that document in detail cases of torture, deaths in custody, arbitrary detention and disappearances of Tibetans”. The Committee expressed strong concern for the endemic lack of access to lawyers and to adequate medical treatments, for widespread arbitrary arrests of people who are kept incommunicado for long periods, as well as for the routine use of torture and the general ill-treatment of prisoners.
Severe prison conditions have led to the death of a number of Tibetan prisoners. The most prominent case is Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a reincarnated Lama who died on 12 July 2015 after 13 years in detention.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, born in 1950, was a revered Lama from Eastern Tibet who was very active in his community, initiating public projects such as orphanages, schools and old people’s homes. Despite his long track record of community service, in 2002 he was arrested and falsely accused by the authorities of being involved in two bomb explosions in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. While he was initially sentenced to death on charges of “terrorism and inciting separatism”, his sentence was later changed to life imprisonment. Throughout the years of his detention Tenzin Delek Rinpoche maintained his innocence through audio and written messages.
Prison conditions for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche were particularly harsh. He was denied the right to family visits, which is enshrined in Chinese Prison Law, and continuous maltreatment resulted in his critically ill health.
While the authorities’ official version is that he died of cardiac arrest, his niece Nyima Lhamo was one of the only people who were allowed to see his dead body to perform funeral rites, and she noticed signs of torture. She subsequently decided to flee Tibet and escape to India, leaving her child behind her, to make sure that the world outside of China knew what really happened to her uncle Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and how he had been tortured.
In order to decrease the number of deaths in custody, China frequently discharges terminally ill prisoners. This has been the case for several Tibetan political prisoners, such as Ngawang Jampel, Goshul Lobsang and Tenzin Choedak, who were sent home from prisons and hospitals when it was obvious that their health was inevitably compromised as a result of torture and mistreatment, and that they would die soon.
Whilst such victims are less well known, under Xi Jinping’s rule there have been flagrant cases of death in custody where the victims were outspoken and high profile human rights activists. In addition to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and human rights lawyer and activist Cao Shunli have both died in custody since 2012.
Once a professor at Beijing Normal University, Liu Xiaobo was first incarcerated for 21 months after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre for his role in supporting students who had participated in the protests. He was imprisoned again and held in a labour re-education camp between 1996 and 1999 for his public criticism of Chinese policies towards Taiwan and the Dalai Lama. In 2009 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his involvement with Charter ’08, a manifesto calling for political reforms in China.
While serving his term in a prison in Liaoning, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “for his efforts to implement the fundamental human rights secured in international instruments as well as in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.”
In June 2017, after serving eight years of his sentence, Liu Xiaobo was transferred to hospital suffering from liver cancer, but kept under the authorities’ strict surveillance. Despite pressure from the international community, the Chinese government denied Liu Xiaobo permission to seek treatment overseas. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate died in July and his wife Liu Xia is currently missing. Leaders and politicians around the world expressed concern about the way Liu Xiaobo was treated but greater pressure needs to be brought to bear on China to ensure the safety of Liu Xia.
Cao Shunli’s case is another tragic example of death in custody at the hands of Chinese authorities. Cao was arrested after staging a two-month long sit-in along other activists, asking the authorities to allow her to participate in China’s Universal Periodic Review. She was stopped by the police in September 2013 at a Beijing airport while trying to reach Geneva to attend a human rights training programme, and was formally arrested the following month. She was suffering from several conditions, including tuberculosis, uterine fibrosis and liver disease, but was denied medical treatments while in detention. She died in March 2014, and her family and lawyer were not allowed to see her body.
Tibetan monks and nuns have played a crucial role in outwardly demonstrating against China’s rule in Tibet since 1959, and as a result represent the majority of Tibetan political prisoners: in the 1980s they comprised as much as 90% of these arrests, and in the first two years of Xi Jinping’s leadership (2013 – 2015) they were close to 40%.
With monks and nuns at the forefront of Tibetan resistance, monasteries and nunneries are targeted by authorities in an attempt to prevent anti-government activism. As reported in the previous chapter, surveillance of monasteries and nunneries across Tibet has increased under the grid system, with growing numbers of Communist Party officials installed on Tibetan institute management committees, vastly limiting religious freedom.
Compulsory “patriotic re-education” sessions have become increasingly common in Tibetan monasteries and villages: such sessions can last for months at a time, and they often require participants to sign declarations in which they are forced to reject Dalai Lama.
According to a recent Freedom House report on religious freedom in China and Tibet, “new measures imposed since November 2012 include punishing assistance to self-immolators, canceling previously permitted festivals, increasing restrictions on private religious practice, and more proactively manipulating Tibetan Buddhist doctrine and selection of religious leaders.”
In September 2017, revised rules on religious activity were issued by China’s State Council and further harsh conditions incorporated. With religious practices in Tibet increasingly associated with ‘threats’ to Chinese national security, nuns, monks and lay Buddhists are more likely to be accused of “splittism” and “terrorism”, or of being part of the so-called “Dalai clique”. These revised rules can be seen as a consolidation of the far-reaching powers of Beijing in Tibet and an additional threat to the continued survival of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet.
The exiled Tibetan religious leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, has for decades been at the core of hatred and vilification campaigns. Despite the efforts of the government, Tibetans still have a profound respect for the Dalai Lama and long for his return to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959 as a direct consequence of China’s occupation, and he has not been able to return. In the many decades that the Dalai Lama has spent in exile, the Chinese government has always tried to discredit him in the eyes of Tibetans and Chinese people, describing the Nobel Peace Laureate as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, a “terrorist”, an “enemy of the Chinese state” and a threat to social stability and security.
Most recently, following Xi’s hardline stance on the Dalai Lama, local authorities in Tibet have established a zero-tolerance policy for those who secretly or openly worship the Dalai Lama. Owning or selling his photo has become illegal, and storing his teachings is considered a serious crime, punishable with lengthy prison sentences. Similarly, when two senior monks organised ceremonies to pray for the Dalai Lama’s good health, they were arrested and received harsh and lengthy sentences.
Local and national press are periodically swamped with articles vilifying the exiled religious leader, and in 2016 the Chinese national newspaper Global Times cited Lian Xiangmin, of the China Tibetology Research Centre in Beijing, as saying that for Chinese people, displaying the Dalai Lama’s picture was the same as Saddam Hussein’s image would be for Americans.
Likewise, in a further attempt to control religious matters, Chinese authorities are claiming the right to select the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama has consistently maintained that he might reincarnate in exile or he might decide not to reincarnate at all, making it clear that the choice over his reincarnation definitely does not lie in the Chinese government’s hands.
In January 2016 the Chinese authorities issued an online database of Communist Party approved Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations (Rinpoche) or ‘Living Buddhas’. Notably, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, does not appear on the government-approved list, with the official TAR government website claiming he is not included because he has lived outside Tibet for so long, and “the fact that the database doesn’t list him in the “realm of [Rinpoches] is just inevitable and right”.
Popular Kalachakra teachings were held by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, Northern India, in January 2017 and many Tibetans from Tibet tried to obtain travel documents in order to participate. Authorities reacted by revoking the passports of Tibetans across the plateau, and threatening retaliation “for generations” against the families of those who managed to cross the border to India to attend the Kalachakra. As a result the few Tibetans who did manage to attend the teachings in Bodh Gaya left almost immediately in fear that something might happen to their family members back home.
Religious leaders who remain in Tibet have also often been directly targeted by the Chinese authorities in an attempt to limit their influence. The most egregious example is Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, whose case is outlined in the previous chapter, but in December 2013, the popular and respected senior monk and social activist Khenpo Kartse (layname Karma Tsewang) was detained. His arrest sparked mass demonstrations and a rare silent vigil outside his prison in December 2014. After being held for almost a year without trial, he was sentenced in a secret trial to two and a half years’ imprisonment, and released in July 2016.
Further State control of religious freedom can be seen in China’s efforts to curb the number of buddhist practitioners allowed to reside in Tibetan nunneries and monasteries. In the past year, Chinese authorities have demolished swathes of Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two world-renowned Buddhist institutes in Eastern Tibet.
Around 7,000 houses and buildings have been demolished and at least 6,500 Tibetan monks and nuns have been expelled from these two centres alone. Many of these practitioners have been forced to undergo humiliating patriotic re-education sessions, performing dances and singing in military uniforms and have been sent back to their villages of origin with official notices that bar their return to the institutes that had been their homes for years. Furthermore, recent evidence has shown that there are also plans to develop Larung Gar as a tourist destination with growing concern that we will see the renowned institute transformed into a low quality Disneyland-style tourist site.
Silencing the International Community
Following the example of Mao Zedong, Xi Jinping is paying a great deal of attention to building his image, both nationally and internationally. Since he came to power in 2012, Xi’s government has increased its efforts to change the negative view the world holds of China’s human rights record through soft power, direct threats, political influence, infiltration of universities, manipulation of international media, trade deals and blunt propaganda.
In the last five years there have been heavy-handed cases in which China dictated conditions over national policies in foreign countries. In 2014, Chinese pressure on Spain prompted the Spanish government to make legislative changes undermining the country’s adherence to the principles of “Universal Jurisdiction”, and thereby forcing the closure of high profile court cases under which former Chinese leaders had been indicted for their actions in Tibet. Following a visit of the Dalai Lama to Mongolia in late 2016, Chinese authorities threatened to stop investing in the country if the exiled Tibetan religious leader was invited again in the future. Likewise, in April 2017 China tried to pressure India to prevent the Dalai Lama from travelling to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state with a large Tibetan population neighbouring Tibet.
Governments have also come under pressure to prevent human rights campaigners from protesting when Xi Jinping travels abroad. The Swiss authorities imposed a ban on protests during Xi’s visit in January 2017 and in the UK in October 2015, British authorities detained a number of protesters, including two Tibetans and also Tiananmen survivor and human rights activist Shao Jiang.
Most recently Human Rights Watch denounced the level of threats and influence that China is exercising at the United Nations (UN). These tactics take the form of systematic attempts to silence and threaten human rights activists and NGOs, cut the budget for UN human rights observers, as well as the harassment and intimidation of UN staff.
A propaganda strategy deployed in recent years is to buy space in international media outlets, thus expanding the outreach of the government media mouthpiece Xinhua – China Daily. Inserts or wrap-around covers of internationally-respected newspapers such as the US’s “Washington Post” and UK’s “Daily Telegraph” are not uncommon.
Similarly, Chinese presence and influence within international universities has grown dramatically in the past few years and increasingly since Xi’s appointment. Confucius Institutes and other Chinese academic bodies bringing funds to international universities impose censorship on the content of teaching and research. For example, most recently China tried to censor the academic journal China Quarterly, from Cambridge University Press (CUP). While CUP initially agreed to delete disputed articles in China, following strong pressure from the international academic community they reinstated the original content.
While CUP has managed to maintain its rigour and impartiality for now, other universities and publishers remain under strong pressure from the Chinese government and investors. The University of California in San Diego recently saw a cut in Chinese state investments after it hosted the Dalai Lama for a graduation speech in June 2017.
Chinese overseas influence is of course not limited to the media and academia. China is buying the favour of other countries through trade and investment plans including the massive infrastructure project known as One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR). This project – strongly linked personally to Xi Jinping – will connect more than 60 countries throughout Asia, Europe and Africa through renewed infrastructure. Flooding developing and developed countries alike with investment, the Chinese government is buying the favour of local politicians, traders and investors.
We call on Xi Jinping to adopt a paradigm shift in the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to Tibet that gives full agency over formulating future policies to the Tibetan people, by first acknowledging its failures and the illegitimacy of its military rule over Tibet. Xi Jinping must commit to a just and lasting resolution that recognizes the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination under international law. Xi Jinping must implement the following recommendations immediately:
- Stop the Chinese government’s use of military force to crackdown on the Tibetan people. Withdraw security forces from monasteries and places where protests have taken place.
- Allow immediate and unfettered access to Tibet by foreign media, diplomats, international observers and foreign tourists.
- Cease the harsh and systematic repression of religious and cultural life in Tibet, and suspend with immediate effect the Chinese government’s patriotic education programme.
- Halt all economic and development policies detrimental to safeguarding the prospects and livelihood of the Tibetans. Reduce the dependency of the Tibetan economy on Chinese government subsidies by favouring bottom up, sustainable development models that offer opportunities to disadvantaged Tibetans and cease all financial incentives for Chinese settlement onto the plateau and allow the Tibetans to be full partners in all decisions over land use in Tibet.
- Stop environmentally destructive mining and damming projects, and engage with downstream nations to implement bottom-up participatory management of Tibet’s water resources.
- Release all political prisoners detained for engaging in peaceful protest, arbitrarily detained or sentenced without a just trial in accordance with international law immediately and unconditionally.
We call on world governments and international institutions to:
- Express strong public condemnation of China’s intensifying religious and cultural repression in Tibet, with specific reference to widespread programmes of “patriotic education” and harsh measures to punish individuals for peaceful expression of their cultural and political freedom.
- Seek to send diplomats to affected areas and demand from China assurances that foreign journalists be allowed unfettered access to the TAR and Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan.
- Expand capacity to monitor the situation in Tibet, including continuing to push for greater access to Tibet. Initiate or elevate efforts to establish a diplomatic presence in Lhasa, and expand existing resources within Beijing embassies for monitoring.
- Raise strong concerns over the failure of economic and development policies in Tibet, including the lack of Tibetan participation in shaping these policies.
- Increase programmatic support for Tibetans in Tibet and for programmes that facilitate information exchange between Tibetans in exile and in Tibet.
 For example see Qinghai government website article describing an increase in police presence especially around sensitive times: http://www.qh.gov.cn/zwgk/system/2017/01/01/010246569.shtml. See also the Five Year Plan for the TAR (2016-2021) there will be a increase of military-civilian integration in the TAR http://www.xzxw.com/zw/qwfb/201604/t20160423_1194984.html, and China’s stepped-up border presence. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2103135/was-chinas-military-drill-tibet-really-just-exercise
 The grid system has seen the deployment of thousands of CPC officials across the TAR and Qinghai province, resulting in a strong surveillance and monitoring mechanism. https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/20/china-alarming-new-surveillance-security-tibet
 In the past, foreign tourists had reported on Tibetans’ anti-government demonstrations and on the authorities’ crackdown on protesters, as in the case of the widespread demonstrations that took place in Tibet in 1987-1989 and 2008. http://www.tibetwatch.org/uploads/2/4/3/4/24348968/30_years_of_resistance.pdf
Tibet groups around the world have launched a campaign to press Liverpool FC to terminate a controversial deal with Chinese water bottling company Tibet Water Resources Limited (1).
The campaign calls on Liverpool FC’s owner, John W. Henry, to terminate the deal with Tibet Water due to the ethical concerns over dealing with a company operating in occupied Tibet, the scene of some the worst and longest-running human rights abuses in the world (2).
What can you do? Please sign and share these petitions:
Tibet organisations, including Free Tibet and Tibet Society have written to Liverpool FC’s owner and directors to alert them to the serious situation in Tibet and how their deal with Tibet Water is harmful to both Tibetans and Liverpool FC’s reputation. Corporate campaigners Sum Of Us have now joined with Tibet groups to encourage as many people as possible to press Liverpool FC’s ownership for an end to the deal (3).
The deal, signed on 24 July, makes Tibet Water Liverpool FC’s official regional water partner in China and offers the company a range of promotional and marketing rights. Reports about the deal state that Liverpool FC, one of the world’s biggest football clubs with a growing Asian fan base, will also offer Tibet Water social media support and access to current players and legendary players from the club’s history.
Noticeably absent from the deal are the Tibetan people, who have been living under a harsh military occupation since the Chinese military invaded in 1950. Under China’s occupation, Tibet has become one of the most closed and repressive places on earth (3), with human rights watchdogs recording a range of abuses. Tibetans are arrested and held in detention for “crimes” as small as flying the Tibetan national flag, sharing information about the situation in Tibet to the outside world or simply displaying a picture of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama (4).
Under the occupation, a new invasion of Chinese companies has taken place, with Tibet, once a remote country with a pristine environment, now crisscrossed with mines to dig up its natural resources. There has been a boom in water bottling companies arriving in Tibet (5), drawn by the fact that Tibet is the source of some of Asia’s largest rivers, which flow as far as Bangladesh and Vietnam and provide water to roughly a fifth of the world’s population(6). The glaciers on Tibet’s mountain peaks feed into these rivers and are prized by water bottling companies for their purity.
Global Tibet Groups have expressed concerns that these water bottling, mining and extraction activities in Tibet are only able to take place due to China’s military occupation. Tibetans have been given no say over how their resources are used and have expressed widespread opposition to their natural resources being taken, regularly defying police to carry out environmental protests across Tibet (7).
Since the deal was signed Tibetans and Tibet campaigners in the UK have attended Liverpool matches to hand out information to inform supporters about the implications of Liverpool FC’s links to Tibet’s occupation. Liverpool FC fans have also been in contact with Free Tibet and Tibet Society directly to express their serious concerns about the agreement signed by their club.
John Jones, Campaigns and Communications Manager at Free Tibet said:
“While a deal with a company based in Tibet might sound like an attractive and exotic opportunity, the reality for the Tibetan people is very different. Companies like Tibet Water that extract Tibet’s resources cannot be separated from the Chinese government’s brutal occupation and human rights abuses. Liverpool FC’s directors owe it to Tibetans and their fans to learn about the repression that Tibet’s people live under and then reverse course. Terminating this deal will send a clear signal that Liverpool FC rejects any association with human rights abuses.”
Gloria Montgomery, Head of Advocacy at Tibet Society, said:
“For decades, the world has stood by as China has committed human rights violations in occupied Tibet and plundered the country’s land and natural resources for profit. While Tibetans suffer from China’s abusive policies, Chinese companies like Tibet Water are able to take advantage of the systematic oppression of the Tibetan people. It is utterly shocking that almost 70 years into the occupation, the notion of ‘profits over people’ continues to be legitimised to such an extent that a Premier League thinks it can sign a deal with Tibet Water and the world will sit idly by.”
Hanna Thomas, Campaign and Culture Director at Sum Of Us, said:
“Tibet Water owes its profits to the repression, torture and denial of basic political freedoms meted out by the Chinese military occupation of Tibet. Liverpool FC is normalising this brutal regime — lending it an air of legitimacy through its deal with Tibet Water. The club should be using its enormous power and wealth to promote basic freedoms and rights across the world, not help deny them.”
The full list of organisations taking part in this campaign are:
Tibet Society UK
Sum Of Us
Associazione Italia Tibet
Auckland Tibetan Association
Australia Tibet Committee
Boston Tibet Network
Finnish Tibet Committee
Friends of Tibet New Zealand
India Tibet Friendship Society
International Tibet Network Secretariat
Lungta: Tibet Support Group Belgium
Students for a Free Tibet International, UK, India and Japan
Tibetan Community in Britain
Tibet Initiative Deutschland
Tibet Justice Center
Tibet Patria Libre, Uruguay
Tibet Support Committee Denmark
Tibet Support Group Ireland
Tibetan Women’s Association
Tibetan Youth Association Europe
US Tibet Committee
Youth Liberation Front of Tibet, Eastern Turkestan and Inner Mongolia
John Jones, Free Tibet
Tel: +44 (0)207 324 4605
Gloria Montgomery, Tibet Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7923 0021
Notes for editors
- Liverpool FC’s press release about the deal can be found here: http://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/announcements/269478-lfc-announces-tibet-water-resources-ltd-partnership
- The US-based human rights and democracy organisation Freedom House ranks occupied Tibet as the second worst place in the world for political rights and civil liberties, behind only Syria. Their 2017 report is available at: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/tibet See also Amnesty International, Annual report 2016/2017 – The State of the World’s Human Rights: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2017/02/amnesty-international-annual-report-201617 and Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017 – China and Tibet:, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/china-and-tibet
- The campaign can be accessed through the websites of the participating organisations, and via the International Tibet Network’s website here: https://actions.tibetnetwork.org/tell-liverpool-fc-drop-its-sponsorship-deal-tibet-water
- For example, in 20014, Tibetan monk Thardhod Gyaltsen was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being caught in possession of portraits and recordings of the Dalai lama during a raid on his monastery by security forces: http://www.thetibetpost.com/en/news/tibet/3963-china-jails-senior-monk-from-tibets-driru-county-for-18-years
- TWRL is one of a number of Chinese water bottling companies operating in Tibet with the backing of the Chinese government. In 2014, under an initiative called “Sharing Tibet’s Water with the world”, the regional government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) signed contracts with sixteen major companies to expand the water bottling industry in Tibet and, in November 2015, announced a new ten-year plan to expand the industry, with a target of 10 million tonnes of bottled water production by 2025. The expansion – a seventy-fold increase over the capacity in 2014 – is being incentivised with significant tax breaks to companies and a lower extraction fee for water than elsewhere in China.
- See, for example: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-rivers-asia/melting-mountains-put-millions-at-risk-in-asia-study-idUSTRE6594TG20100610
- For more information on Tibet’s environmental protests, see this report by Tibet Watch: http://www.tibetwatch.org/uploads/2/4/3/4/24348968/environmental_protests_on_the_tibetan_plateau.pdf
- Larung Gar and Yachen Gar are in Serthar County, Kardze, Kham, Eastern Tibet (Ch: Ganzi/Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province).
- Source: https://www.facebook.com/notes/stand-with-larung-gar/china-completes-demolitions-at-larung-gar-despite-worlds-outrage/1965894283686512/
BRUSSELS: Office of Tibet Brussels organised a two-hour long conference in the European Parliament (EP) on Reincarnation of Dalai Lama: Why it Matters to China, yesterday. And it was co-hosted by the major political groups in the EP, European Peoples Party (EPP), Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens/European Free Alliance.
Two experts on the subject presented their views. At first Ven. Dagpo Rinpoche drew the attention of the conference dispassionately on how the reincarnation system came into being in the Tibetan society, how the system has benefitted the society, what are occasional pitfalls of the system, who has the authority to decide the reincarnation of a particular reincarnate and what has been the process of seeking the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. His presentation brought out the singular aspect of this tradition in the Tibetan society as a societal custom and tradition.
Ven. Dagpo Rinpoche is a highly respected Tibetan Buddhist master who studied under eminent masters in several monasteries, notably at Dagpo Shedrupling. He arrived in France in 1960 with a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation and taught Tibetan language and philosophy at INALCO (Paris-Dauphine University) for nearly thirty years.
Ms Marie Holzman on the other hand highlighted the contradictory outlook of a Communist Chinese regime vis-à-vis religion. While China is an atheist country currently there are over 10 million Christians, 20-30 million Muslims and over 300 million Buddhists. In her view, the practice of spirituality is a way of dissent in the highly material and controlled society. The Chinese interest to have the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is a way to control Tibet.
Ms Marie Holzman is a Sinologist specialising on Contemporary China. She also taught at Paris 7 University for twenty years, gives conferences in a number of circles and is an active contributor to various monthly and quarterlies such as Politique Internationale.
The conference was opened by MEP Thomas Mann. MEP Preda moderated the panel. MEP Molly Scott-Cato and MEP Laszlo Tokes made opening remarks strongly expressing their views in support of Tibet and the incredulous way China is misrepresenting world-wide the concept and the tradition of reincarnation. MEP Csaba Sogor also recalled his country’s experience under the Communist regime of Ceausescu. He said that spirituality will not be cowed down by military and forcible Communist theology.
Representative Tashi Phuntsok made the closing remarks. He reiterated that the reincarnation is a Tibetan tradition and not Chinese system. He recalled that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had made clear as early as in 1969 that the institution of the Dalai Lama will be decided by the Tibetan people. He quoted the recent remarks of His Holiness the Dalai Lama made in Delhi repeating the stand. Finally he quoted from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 2011 September 24 public statement on the issue, “When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditi
ons, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not… responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust… I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China”.
The conference was attended by 7 MEPs, 15 Parliamentary Assistants, the Press, Politicians, NGOs, Tibet Support Groups and the staff of Office of Tibet with total of 60 participants. It may also be recalled that this is one of the series of advocacy events being carried out by the Office of Tibet, Brussels.
- Photo’s © Han Vandenabeele 2017
Name: Tashi Wangchuk
Age: 30 on detention
Summary: Tashi Wangchuk, a young Tibetan businessman and language rights advocate has been detained and charged with “inciting separatism”. He had no access to his family until September 2016 and has only seen a lawyer (during police investigations) twice in June and September 2016. He faces up to 15 years in prison and is at risk of torture and other ill- treatment.
Charge: “Inciting separatism”
Sentence: Indicted in January 2017 but not yet tried;
Prison: Yushu Detention Centre
Tashi Wangchuk is a Tibetan shopkeeper and advocate for greater Tibetan language education in schools in Tibet; Chinese has increasing become the predominant language of instruction in Tibet, often being the exclusive language taught.
Detained by Chinese authorities on 27 January 2016 and formally arrested in March 2016 on suspicion of “inciting separatism”, Amnesty International have reported that Tashi Wangchuk has now been indicted and is awaiting trial .
Tashi had no access to his family until September 2016 and, during police investigations, was visited by his lawyers twice in June and September 2016. If convicted of “inciting separatism”, Tashi Wangchuk could face 15 years in prison and is at risk of torture and other ill- treatment.
In 2015 the New York Times, in “A Tibetan’s Journey for Justice” , reported his attempts to file a lawsuit against local officials over the lack of Tibetan language education in schools, but no law firm would help him.
Though critical of the threats to Tibetan language and culture, Tashi has never written about Tibetan independence. His language campaign is in line China’s constitution: “[e]thnic minorities’ right to learn, use and develop their own spoken and written languages is guaranteed in accordance with the law” (Article 4). Amidst China’s current crackdown, Tashi Wangchuk’s case is an example of how Tibetans face additional persecution for any activity perceived as a threat, through charges of “separatism”.
We urge Governments to:
- Raise Tashi Wangchuk’s case urgently with Chinese counterparts, seeking his immediate and unconditional release as he has been detained solely for peacefully exercising his rights;
- Seek evidence about his medical health and treatment while in detention and a guarantee about his protection from torture and other ill-treatment while he is in custody.
- Urge that Tashi Wangchuk be given immediate access to a lawyer of his choice, medical treatment and visits from his family as required under China’s Human Rights Action Plan and the Prison Law of the PRC.
- Seek permission to send observers to his trial.
What can you do? Please sign the petition:
Niece of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche follows in her uncles footsteps in the struggle for Tibet
Nyima Lhamo was still a teenager when she saw her uncle Tenzin Delek Rinpoche for the last time alive. With his arrest and conviction for alleged bomb attacks in 2002 her carefree youth ended abruptly. Through first hand experiences, she felt the weight of the Chinese occupation of Tibet on her shoulders. During the years of Tenzin Delek’s incarceration her family became victim of constant interrogation and harassment. More than a decade later Nyima Lhamo – now 26 years old – was brutally confronted with the suspicious death of her beloved uncle. She decided to flee Tibet in order to tell the truth about his demise, leaving her daughter of six and family behind. We arranged a meeting with this courageous young woman and listened to her story. A story so fresh in her memory that her tears didn’t have a chance to dry yet – but that never the less needs to be told.
How do you remember your uncle when you were a child?
(Her face brightens) There is one thing that I remember very clearly until this day. During the summer months he visited our house often and sometimes he gave me a rare type of cream to protect my face. Until this day I still smell the aroma of that cream – I called it uncle cream. It brings back very fond memories. But most of the times he brought all sorts of gifts that I wasn’t allowed to touch. Back then I didn’t understand and even felt bad. He always stressed that our family had plenty, while others were in more need for it. Getting older I realised that Rinpoche was known for his philanthropic work in Kham, eastern Tibet. He built a lot of monasteries, clinics and schools and whenever he gave teachings, many people showed up. So I started to wonder why he would be rude to me and not give me those things if so many people came to see him. Over the years it dawned to me he never had any bad intention towards other human beings, even towards the Chinese. He told people to be kind to one another and to help each other.
It must have been quite surreal to hear the verdict of the Chinese court?
Of course. Nobody believed the accusations of the Chinese authorities – neither within the family nor within the community. It would have been understandable if there was any evidence that proved he committed those crimes. However, this wasn’t the case. We weren’t even allowed at his trial. Rinpoche’s uncle made the necessary arrangement in hiring two lawyers from Beijing (dissident and pro-democracy defenders Zhang Sizhi and Li Huigeng; editorial note). Eventually they were not granted to pursue his case and the court provided him with an attorney.
The moment word got out of his arrest, international support started rallying for his release. Were you aware of this?
Not really but I heard that some organisations were working for his case. As you know there is no free press in Tibet. So it’s only since my escape into exile that I’m getting access to all this information. During the 13 years of his imprisonment my mother could visit him six times. I was never allowed to see him in prison, although the Chinese law clearly states that family members can visit. Most of the time the visits took place at a secret location, outside the prison itself.
I assume that during these visits the walls had ears and they couldn’t speak freely?
(Sobbing) At certain occasions Rinpoche was able to tell my mother some details of his life in jail. The guards beat him and regularly made fun of him. They laughed that as a reincarnated lama his divine powers could save him from all this suffering. My mother also noticed that he was limping while walking. In spite of his maltreatment he kept on telling my mother not to feel any hatred towards the prison authorities. They were just poor human beings.
At the beginning of July 2015 your mother was summoned to Chengdu. Looking back, did you suspected anything out of the ordinary?
We were having dinner when a call from the Chinese authorities reached us saying we could meet my uncle. Initially there was no reason to be suspicious about the situation because we were constantly appealing to see him. In fact the authorities had promised us a visit every two years. Although my mother did ask if everything was alright with Rinpoche’s health, they assured us that all was just fine and that we should prepare ourselves. The next day my mother and aunt got permission to leave for Chengdu. But instead of an immediate visit the authorities kept on postponing for 10 days. Eventually my mother received the news that Rinpoche had passed away – this was on the 12th July. On the same day my mother called and told me the news. I was in shock and couldn’t believe it.
So you decided to go to Chengdu yourself to figure out what happened?
(Tears are welling up her eyes) After many difficulties, I arrived in Chengdu and, together with my mom and aunt, we started to protest in front of police station. We demanded to see Rinpoche’s body. My mother was hitting her head against the wall – very hard. At first I decided to hang myself with a scarf. During our protest a constant thought of suicide came to mind. But at the same time I knew that by committing suicide the issue would die with me. As we were attracting a lot of attention from passers-by, the policemen, who wanted to avoid this, eventually called us inside. They told us to write down our concerns, as we did. We requested a copy of the death certificate and a full investigation into his death before the cremation would take place. We also stated that if these demands were met, we wouldn’t carry out any further petitions for Rinpoche’s case.
The authorities claimed Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died of natural causes. Did you receive any proof to substantiate this claim?
No, on the contrary. They never provided any medical records to collaborate this so-called fact. Only hours after we submitted our appeal, local authorities received orders from higher-up that his body must be burned the next day. There were many inconsistencies and to this day I’m convinced he had been poisoned. According to Chinese law the body should be kept for 15 days in order for the family to visit and pay their final respect. This was not the case. Also, the time of his death cited by the authorities kept on changing. First they told us he died at 4 pm, while others said it happened at 2 pm. Neither his body nor his ashes were returned to the family, which is in violation of Chinese law. Finally, prior to his cremation we had a brief moment to see his body. I noticed that his lips were unusually black. At first I thought this was normal because some body parts do get a sort of blueish discolouration after you die. But the monks who washed and prepared his body also noticed that his toe- and fingernails were exceptionally black.
Returning home to Lithang, you and your mother got arrested. On what grounds?
We were detained for 15 or 18 days – I’m not really sure – because we leaked information. I had contacted one of my uncles in exile, Geshe Nyima La, and briefed him on the course of events. I received a phone call from a person who claimed to be a Beijing based journalist and told him about the murder of my uncle. There also was a picture of my mother holding our appeal letter circulating around. In order to get released we were told to sign a document containing three points. Firstly, we couldn’t spread any information concerning Rinpoche’s death. Secondly, we shouldn’t appeal any further on this case. And finally, we weren’t allowed to send any information to the outside world. My mother, who was very sick and even vomited blood, refused bluntly. Even at gunpoint she wouldn’t do so. Eventually we were released without signing anything. Later on we were told that our village leader signed on our behalf.
How was the situation in Lithang after the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche?
The Chinese authorities continued to discredit and dishonour him by sharing distorted information. They called him a threat to the social stability and a fake lama. Local villagers were not permitted to build a memorial stupa or to offer a traditional butter lamp as is done in honour of the deceased. His belongings, including his money, were confiscated and we were told that everything would be burnt. Protesters were beaten, arrested, again released and afterwards rearrested. I also heard that the authorities might try to manipulate his reincarnation process, as they did in the case of the Panchen Lama.
You decided to escape to India, knowing there will be no way back. What was your drive to take this life-changing decision?
In Tibet there are no means to appeal whatsoever. When I was growing up, I heard that in Western countries you have freedom of speech and people listen to you. So there is still a possibility that justice will prevail. I know it will be difficult for people to commit or to make promises, but it is my duty to speak out. Everybody, Tibetans and Chinese alike, is entitled to basic human rights. I never imagined that China was capable of such acts. Rinpoche was a good and well-respected person. He never committed any crimes and I hoped he would be released. I was proven wrong. So, as his niece, I find it my responsibility to tell the real story – not only that of my uncle, but that of many Tibetans.
If you could say one final thing to your uncle what would it be?
I miss you. (Silence)
Nyima Lhamo, I would like to thank you very much for this interview and your courage. You can count on our support!
Bronnen en achtergrondinformatie:
- A special thanks to Ms. Tenzin Sonam, EU-Human Rights Officer, DIIR for translating from Tibetan to English
- Text and photo’s © Han Vandenabeele, 2016
- Trials of a Tibetan monk: the case of Tenzin Delek – Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/report/2004/02/08/trials-tibetan-monk/case-tenzin-delek
China continues its devastating plans to evict monks and nuns from Tibet’s Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, and demolish their homes. The consequences have been devastating and intolerable.
4,600 residents have been forced to leave Larung Gar Buddhist Academy since 20 July 2016. Residents who have been removed from the site have been made to sign pledges promising not to return to live there. Others have been locked out of their own homes.
Monks and nuns who have been returned to their native regions from Larung Gar have been prevented from joining new monasteries and nunneries. Some have been subjected to humiliating patriotic re-education sessions, in which they are required to sing Chinese propaganda songs and denounce their own Tibetan culture and religion.
But we can stop this.
In December the European Parliament issued a strong resolution, urging China to halt the demolitions and forced removals and respect Tibetans’ religious freedoms. Later this month, representatives from the EU will meet their Chinese counterparts for their biannual dialogue on human rights; an opportunity to directly raise Larung Gar, and urge Beijing to halt the demolitions, removals and attacks on Tibetans’ freedom of religion.
Please write to High Representative Mogherini, calling for strong action from the EU on Larung Gar:
BRUSSELS – Golog Jigme, former political prisoner and human rights defender testified before the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights in Brussels yesterday.
“I was born in a nomad’s family in Eastern Tibet. I am a non-violent freedom fighter. I am a human rights defender. I am a filmmaker. I made a documentary called Leaving Fear Behind. Because of this, the Chinese authorities arrested and tortured me,” he said as he began his testimony. He was imprisoned three times and tortured by the Chinese authorities for making the documentary Leaving Fear Behind and for involvement in March 2008 peaceful protest in Labrang. After his first arrest in 2008, he was tortured by the Chinese authorities for 51 days.
“Once, they hung me forward with my back against the chair,” he said. “Both my ankles were shackled below the chair’s seat and wrists shackled on the chair’s small metal table. My feet were not touching the floor. It was like hanging on the chair. The weight of my whole body was borne by my shackled ankles and wrists. This made me feel that my chest was going to split into two and all my intestines were going to fall onto the floor. I became very dizzy and could not see properly.”
The Chinese security officials beat him on his back with tiny metal sticks, kicked him and gave him electric shocks in his mouth. “The pain the chair caused when they hung me was too extreme to feel any of the pain caused by the metal sticks or the kicking. When they gave me electric shocks, I could feel nothing. I could only smell the burning of my own flesh,” he said.
The pain of thirst was the second worst torture for him. Due to heavy loss of blood during torture, “I felt like I was dying from thirst. I was only given a very small amount of water. Over time, I got used to hunger and sleep deprivation, but never to being thirsty,” he said.
He was arrested for the second time in 2009 and again in 2012. Fearing for his life during the detention in 2012, he managed to escape in the middle of the night. While he was hiding in the mountains, he learned that the Chinese police had put out a warrant for his arrest for murder, which he never committed.
He thanked the European Parliament and requested the Parliament to call on China to impose a moratorium on the settlement of Tibetan pastoral nomads and to allow diplomats, parliamentarians and journalists, free access to Tibet. Finally, he called on China to improve the living conditions of the over 2,000 Tibetan political prisoners currently in Chinese prisons who have been detained and sentenced for peaceful expression of views or non-violent dissent and for their immediate release.
He also appealed for the release of his friend Shokjang, a young Tibetan writer and blogger sentenced to three years in prison on 17 February 2016 after he wrote a blog post about an intense build up of Chinese security forces in the Rebkong area.
Speaking on China’s new counter-terrorism law, he said it gives an even larger scope for the penalization of almost any peaceful expression of Tibetan identity, acts of non-violent dissent, or criticism of ethnic or religious policies.
Mr Tőkés László, a senior member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights chaired the hearing. Dr Joëlle Hivonnet of the European External Action Service (EEAS) said in her statement, “We were humbled by his (Golog Jigme) testimony. It is important for us to hear first hand information.”
Golog Jigme had met the Council of the EU’s Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) and the Asia-Oceana Working Party (COASI) Chairs, as well as officials from the European External Action Service (EEAS) on Monday. “I know what it is to live under Communist rule because I grew up in Romania,” said Mr László in his concluding remark.
Golog Jigme had a detailed meeting with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Federation for Human Rights yesterday morning. In the evening he spoke to the members of the Tibet Interest Group in the European Parliament and “Leaving Fear Behind” documentary was screened.
He arrived in India in May 2014. The Swiss authorities granted him political asylum in 2015. He is visiting Brussels to share first-hand account of his experience in a Chinese prison and his way to freedom. His visit was jointly organised by the International Campaign for Tibet and Bureau du Tibet, Brussels.
“First of all, I would like to greet every one of you. My name is Golog Jigme. I was born in a nomad’s family in Eastern Tibet. I am a non-violent freedom fighter. I am a human rights defender. I am a filmmaker. I made a documentary called “Leaving Fear Behind”. Because of this, the Chinese authorities arrested and tortured me. Why did I make this documentary? The Chinese were propagating lies about the situation in Tibet. I wanted to show the real situation inside Tibet.
In this documentary, the Tibetan people are speaking out the reality in Tibet under Communist China’s occupation. In Tibet, there is no human freedom, no freedom of expression, no freedom of movement, no freedom of language, no freedom of religion, not even freedom of thought. Because of this situation, I made this documentary.
In 2008, there was a huge uprising all over Tibet. I participated in these protests. For making the documentary and taking part in these protests, the Chinese arrested me three times. You wouldn’t believe how the Chinese security forces arrested me, a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Over 60 policemen and over 300 military officials came and arrested me. When they arrested me, they pointed two rifles at my head. They beat me with their rifle butts. I was knocked to the ground and was bleeding. My whole body was soaked in my blood. That is how they arrested me. There were military vehicles all over the village. This is just shocking and unspeakable. That is how I was arrested in 2008.
So after arresting me, they tortured me in prison. I was subjected to a new torture method called the Iron Chair (the Chinese call it Lohuten). I was tortured naked on this chair day and night for 51 days. ON this chair, they tortured me in three different ways;
- My wrists were cuffed on a small metal table attached to the chair, my chest and legs shackled to the Iron Chair.
- My chest and both legs shackled to the Iron Chair and my shoulders locked back. Then they hung me. This made me feel that my chest was going to split into two and all my intestines were going to fall onto the floor. I became very dizzy and could not see properly. I can never express how this torture felt.
- My wrists were cuffed on a small metal table, legs bent beneath the seat and cuffed below. Then they hung me. The weight of my whole body was born by my shackled legs and wrists.
They beat me on my back with tiny metal sticks, kicking me and giving electric shocks to my mouth. The pain the chair caused when they hung me was too extreme to feel any of the pain caused by the metal sticks or the kicking. When they gave me electric shocks, I could feel nothing. I only smelt the burning of my own flesh.
After a few weeks, the skin from my bottom began to rub off through the four holes cut into the iron chair seat. I was removed from that iron chair occasionally, but then faced beatings on the floor. They shackled my arms around a stove’s chimney. The heat was so strong there was sweating coming from his face. My hands and chest were burned.
The prison authorities wanted me to give them the names of the Tibetans who spoke in my documentary. Also they wanted to know who told me to participate in the peaceful protests. That is why they tortured me.
The pain of thirst was the second worst torture. Due to heavy loss of blood, I felt like I was dying from thirst. I was only given a very small amount of water. Over time, I got used to hunger and sleep deprivation, but never to being thirsty.
I am a non-violent freedom fighter and with great pride I can tell you that I did not betray one single person. I did not respond and they said, if you don’t speak, your mouth is of no use. And then with a lighter they burnt my lips three times. The pain was unbearable. I cannot express how this felt. That’s how I was tortured for 51 days. I am a living testimony of Tibetan people’s suffering in Tibet. It’s not only me. There are currently over 2,000 Tibetan political prisoners in Tibet.
I am at the European Parliament today to share with you, the torture and sufferings of my fellow Tibetans. But, the mental torture is worse than physical torture. Something you could not imagine. I still wonder why they tortured me mentally. It was terrifying. They forced me to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Youth Congress. They said no one could protect me. They said, “the West wouldn’t protect you. America won’t protect you. If there is someone who can protect you, you can call him now”. “There is no one who will save you. If we kill you now and put your body into the dustbin, no one will care about that”, they said. I went through a lot of hardship, but I always continued my activities for the Tibetan people. No matter how hard they tortured me, not even one day did I give up my fight for the Tibetan people.
In 2009, I was arrested for the second time. When I was arrested for the third in 2012, the Chinese guards told me that they would take me a medical examination. They said I might get pills or an injection if the doctors found anything. They were very firm and emphasized that I must follow the doctor’s orders exactly.
I was certain that my life was in danger. Fortunately, I was able to escape one night. While I was hiding in the mountains, I learned that the Chinese police had put out a warrant for my arrest for murder, which I never committed.
I did not want to leave my country. I wanted to continue my human rights work. But when my life was at risk, I had no choice but to escape. Many people risked their lives for my escape.
Today, I appeal to you. Please don’t’ pretend as if you don’t see and hear the Tibetan people’s suffering. Tibet has become like a prison under Chinese occupation. I escaped from this prison. I came to a free country. My body is in a free country but my heart will always remain with the suffering of my Tibetan brothers and sisters. When I think about what they go through, there is not a single day I feel happy being in a free country.
Our freedom struggle needs support from you. As I said, there are over 2,000 documented Tibetan political prisoners who are going through a lot of suffering and torture. Tibetans are protesting against Chinese rule through self-immolations. Over 140 heroes have self-immolated. So, it is important that we talk about these people and their plight and not act as if we don’t see them.
Tibetans are being killed in Tibet. I am always talking about the Chinese government as a terrorist state. Why? With weapons in their hands, they are killing people who are talking about freedom, democracy, about truth. What other name can we call them other than a terrorist state? This is a terrorist state. I want to request the following to the European Parliament;
- Call on China to impose a moratorium on the settlement of Tibetan pastoral nomads, which runs counter to scientific evidence pointing to the need for livestock mobility in ensuring the health of the grasslands and mitigating negative warming impacts on the environment of the Tibetan plateau.
- Urge the Chinese authorities to put an end to the annual closure of the Tibet Autonomous Region around 10th March and to allow foreigners, including independent experts, diplomats, parliamentarians and journalists, free access to Tibet at any time so that they can see the situation in Tibet for themselves.
- Call on China to improve the living conditions of the over 2,000 Tibetan political prisoners currently in Chinese prisons, and to immediately release all those Tibetans who have been detained and sentenced for peaceful expression of views or non-violent dissent (e.g: Shokjang, a young Tibetan writer and blogger sentenced to three years in prison on 17 February 2016 after he wrote a blog post about an intense build up of Chinese security forces in the Rebkong area); Express concerns about the new counterterrorism law, which in conflating ‘terrorism’ with an undefined ‘extremism’ linked to religion, gives an even larger scope for the penalisation of almost any peaceful expression of Tibetan identity, acts of non-violent dissent, or criticism of ethnic or religious policies.
I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to speak in the European Parliament.”