More than 800 prisoners, increased crackdown in Tibet

A surveillance camera is seen in Lhasa, Tibet, with the Potala Palace in the background, in January 2011.

A surveillance camera is seen in Lhasa, Tibet, with the Potala Palace in the background, in January 2011. File photo/Flickr/Erik Törner

By Lobsang Wangyal

MCLEOD GANJ, India, 20 January 2014

With increasing repressive policies in Tibet and close to 900 Tibetan political prisoners, the human rights situation in Tibet continues to worsen, reports Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).

TCHRD claimed that many of China’s policies of violent suppression of peaceful protests, arbitrary detentions, travel restrictions, crackdown on artists, and relocating nomads have undermined the hope for any real reform in China-controlled Tibet. Many of the polices implemented for years have reached a point where they are causing permanent damage to Tibetan culture and the environment.

According to the report, the total number of political prisoners in Tibet is 896; and in the year 2013 the total number of people arrested and sentenced is 119.

There have been as many as 125 cases of self-immolation since 2009, 27 of them in 2013. The immolators called for freedom in Tibet, and the return of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whose photos are banned in Tibet.

TCHRD describes China’s response to the self-immolation protests as “merciless repression”, and pointed out that China does not admit any responsibility for its hardline policies which are the direct cause of the fiery protests.

“China’s severe crackdown on Tibetan self-immolation protesters and their sympathisers are not producing the results the Chinese government wanted. Instead of creating ‘harmony and stability,’ the Chinese government’s merciless crackdown in the form of arrest, torture, imprisonment and outright shootings is further fuelling the fire of Tibetan resentment and distress as human rights abuses continue to increase in Tibet.”

TCHRD welcomed China’s announcement of the abolition of Reform Through Labour (RTL) in December last year as a positive change. But the TCHRD Director Tsering Tsomo said that it’s too early to say if the government will abolish RTL in all its forms which requires stopping the human rights abuses, such as arbitrary detention, forced labour, and torture, that are inherent in RTL.

“Until transparent action is taken that abolishes RTL, scepticism will remain,” Tsering Tsomo said during the launch of the 2013 Annual Report on the situation of human rights in Tibet.

The 250-page report focused on civil and political rights; religious repression; economic, social and cultural rights; religious repression; China’s development strategy, and the Tibetan self-immolations protesting Chinese rule in Tibet.

Tsering Tsomo said the continued implementation of nomad resettlement and relocation policy is one of the main causes of concern.

Tibetan nomads have been forced from their ancestral lands and forced to settle in newly developed urban-type setups. The relocations are mostly against the wishes of the nomads, and comes without adequate compensation.

“The newly-built urban areas where they are forced to resettle cannot sustain their centuries-old way of life, and compared to Chinese migrant workers, nomads receive less state support in terms of finding employment and other sources of livelihood.”

She explained that the primary reason for the forced relocation of the nomads is to exploit rich mineral resources from the nomadic lands. State-owned mining companies have already begun the massive extraction of precious minerals such as lithium, copper, chrome, gold and oil.

According to the report, the past year has seen a severe crackdown on press freedom and the freedom of expression of Tibetans. TCHRD claimed that China remains one of the most serious violators of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

An additional special report: Gulags of Tibet, examines the history and evolution of the Reform Through Labour programme. It has extensive analysis of the current RTL laws, examining how RTL violates the international prohibitions of arbitrary detention, forced labour, and torture.

Updated with addition of paragraph three, giving figures for total number of political prisoners and number of arrests in 2013.
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