By Tenzin Sangmo
Jampel Wangchuk of Drepung Monastery
DHARAMSHALA, May 24: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday released a report, a compendium of 80 long-term cases of Tibetans imprisoned unjustly since March 2008 protests, calling on the Chinese authorities to immediately free the prisoners.
The report said the identity of the victims, their cases and their current wellbeing remains difficult to assess as these are tightly restricted information posing risks of arrest to those who attempt to supply related information.
“Tibetans who did nothing more than call peacefully for their human rights to be respected have been unjustly sentenced to long prison terms,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
The exact charges brought against the defendants are usually not known. The charges appear largely to be for nonviolent political activity, such as “endangering state security” and “divulging state secrets.”
In most cases examined, the prisoners’ families have been kept in dark, leaving them worried because of the known practice of inflicting severe physical abuse and denial of medical care in custody with some having to undergo emergency medical treatment while serving their sentence.
The report listed different groups of people arrested over time in various cases.
The one involving three scholar-monks from Drepung monastery in Lhasa – Jampel Wangchuk, Konchok Nyima, and Ngawang Chonyi, arrested on April 11, 2008, were accused of failing to prevent a protest at the monastery the previous month, in which reports indicated they took no part.
At a closed trial in June 2010, the court sentenced them to life in prison, 20 years and 15 years respectively, on unrevealed charges.
Three Lhasa residents, in another case, were convicted of espionage and handed harsh sentences – ranging from 14 years to life – for allegedly sending information about the 2008 protests to people outside China.
The report identified those involved in the March 16-17, 2008 protests in Amdo Ngaba as the largest cluster of long sentences outside Lhasa.
At least five people sentenced to 13 years or more are assumed to be still in prison.
Another group consists of family and relatives of self-immolators, who were charged with “intentional homicide” between 2011and 2013, a new charge that the authorities introduced to deter these protests, casting moral support for the protesters as abetting suicide.
From a pre-2008 case, two prisoners are still serving life sentences handed down in 1999 and 2000, for printing protest leaflets and for “conspiring with the Dalai [Lama] clique.” There has been no news of him since his transfer to Chushul prison in 2006.
HRW accused the Chinese government of not taking any serious measures to address these longstanding concerns in the Tibet, despite Chinese officials’ assurance that they had accepted recommendations of the UN human rights mechanisms at the most recent China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UNHRC in March 2019.
The report called for access to Tibetan areas for UN rights experts to document alleged rights violations and report publicly on possible accountability measures, asking concerned governments around the world should publicly and privately press China to abide by its pledges made at its UPR.