(New York) --In a report released today, Human Rights Watch describes how China's intolerance of Tibetan political activity extends into areas of Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan, and Qinghai provinces. Half of the Tibetans under Chinese rule live in these areas, known as "eastern Tibet," outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region (see Excerpts from Stories of Tibetans Profiled in the New Human Rights Watch Report).
Tibetan activists in "eastern Tibet" have been sentenced to years in prison for putting up posters calling for China to leave Tibet, writing letters of support to other prisoners, and circulating speeches by the Dalai Lama. They have been tortured during interrogations by police and put under intensive surveillance after their release from prison.
"Human rights violations in ‘eastern Tibet' were simply off the world's radar screen until two foreigners and their Tibetan translator were detained there," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The lesson of their detention and our new report is that it's absolutely essential for foreign correspondents, U.N. human rights monitors, and international humanitarian agencies to have regular access to the region."
The new report, "Profiles of Tibetan Exiles" draws on the experiences of five young Tibetans who fled into India from Sichuan, Gansu, and the Gansu-Qinghai border areas. All came from poor families in areas that the Chinese government had designated autonomous Tibetan prefectures or counties. All had unusual access to education and became involved in political activities through discussions at state schools or academies. All were detained by Chinese security forces for possession or circulation of published materials about the Dalai Lama or Tibetan independence.
The extreme sensitivity of the Chinese government toward any hint of Tibetan political activism was graphically demonstrated in mid-August. Chinese officials detained two Tibet specialists, an American and an Australian, together with their Tibetan translator, in a Tibetan area of Qinghai province where a controversial World Bank project is underway. The project involves the resettlement of thousands of non-Tibetan farmers in a county where many Tibetans are concerned about the impact of in-migration on their culture.
"The detention of the two Tibet specialists and their translator in Qinghai got international attention because foreigners were involved," said Jones. "But arrests of local activists in these eastern Tibetan regions deserve the same scrutiny—and the same condemnation." She said the August detentions illustrated how worried China was about access by foreigners to regions with a potential for political unrest, in part because information about abusive practices might come to light.
The new Human Rights Watch report is based on interviews with dozens of "eastern" Tibetan refugees in India. The interviews, including the five people profiled in depth in this report, were conducted in late 1998 and 1999. Some of those interviewed were open advocates of Tibetan independence; Chinese authorities consider such advocacy tantamount to subversion.
Human Rights Watch takes no stand on Tibet's political status, but maintains that international human rights law protects the rights of Tibetans to peacefully express pro-independence sentiments in public. The types of activity described in this report, for which the men profiled were detained and eventually forced to flee, included leafleting, putting up posters, flying the Tibetan flag, distributing books and tapes containing the writings and speeches of the Dalai Lama, shouting slogans, and teaching other Tibetans about Tibetan history and culture outside the aegis of government institutions. All those activities are protected under the right to free expression, all are peaceful, and none have taken place in the context of insurrection or threat of insurrection.
The Tibetan areas of Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Yunnan have a different history from the Tibetan Autonomous Region, or T.A.R., as they had mostly been brought under direct control of China's Manchu emperors by the end of the eighteenth century. By contrast, what is now known as the T.A.R. continued to be governed by incarnations of the Dalai Lama until 1950.
"Don't think you can work against the government," an interrogator told Dolkar Kyap, a twenty-eight-year-old Tibetan who was picked up for questioning in March 1995 in his native Gansu province.
Dolkar Kyap spent six days with his hands chained to a pipe in the ceiling overnight or for part of the day. Eventually he confessed to the accusations his interrogators were making, most of which were true—that he had put up posters of the Dalai Lama, distributed pro-independence leaflets in monasteries, and used the mimeograph machine at a government school to reproduce other political material. He was moved to three different detention facilities over a three-month period before he was formally arrested. Only then did his family have any idea of what had happened to him.
On September 19, 1996, more than a year and a half after he was first detained, Dolkar Kyap was tried in secret on charges of "counterrevolution" and sentenced to a three-year term. At Gansu Provincial Prison No.2 where he was sent, he was the only Tibetan among the political prisoners. The prison produced leather shoes, carpets, and gloves, and included a iron smelting foundry on the premises; Dolkar Kyap was one of the glove makers.
Released in March 1998, Dolkar Kyap left for India permanently on November 29 the same year.
On a government-sponsored pilgrimage to Lhasa in 1992, Trinley Gyatso, a young monk and student at the Gansu Buddhist Studies Institute, became better acquainted with the writings of the Dalai Lama and with Chinese attempts to interfere with Tibetan religious practice. Back at Labrang monastery in Gansu province, he helped organize the distribution of the materials he had collected and put up posters expressing his support of Tibetan independence.
He was arrested in July 1994 in Gansu. While awaiting trial for two years, Trinley Gyatso was allowed only one visit, from only one family member. Of his time in detention, Gyatso recalls:"Sometimes they hit me all over my body with a sharp thin bamboo stick. My whole body became like a chicken, blue with patches of white." His shoulder joint was destroyed by a form of physical restraint used by security officers.
The trial itself lasted a bare three hours. It was not open to the public. The judges took ten minutes to reach a verdict of guilty and sentence him to a two-year and seven-month term.
After his release, Trinley Gyatso returned to his monastery, but friends got into trouble for their connection to him. He left for India in early 1998 without telling anyone he was going.