(New York) - The authorities in Sichuan province must allow independent medical professionals and human rights monitors into a prison where five Tibetans have been held in custody without trial for more than six months, Human Rights Watch said today.
The five, detained after the burning of a slaughterhouse in Sichuan province last August, have been held without any charges against them made public and reportedly without access to relatives or defense counsel. Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the physical condition of the men after a sixth detainee was released and found to have gone blind in custody as a result of alleged beatings and lack of access to medical care.
“It’s time for the Chinese government to give a full account of what has happened to these five men, including any charges against them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Independent doctors and lawyers should be allowed to meet with them to ascertain their condition.”
On August 5, 2005, some 300 Tibetans reportedly burned down a privately-owned slaughterhouse in Manigango, near Kandze, a predominately Tibetan part of Sichuan province. The following day, police and army units detained several dozen people, many of whom had been identified from a videotape taken by slaughterhouse staff during the attack. Most were released later that day, but several were detained. According to eyewitness testimony, those held in custody were beaten and tortured. Additional police and military forces were brought to the area for the express purpose of conducting these beatings.
Some who were badly injured were taken to a hospital in Kandze. Local citizens registered a complaint with the provincial government, which sent an investigation team to the hospital. When local Public Security Bureau officials learned of the team’s visit, those injured during the protests were reportedly moved out of the hospital.
Five men thought by local officials to be the ringleaders remain in custody. Their last known location was reportedly in Public Security detention in Derge County. The five include Sherab Yonten (60 to 70 years old), Sonam Gyelpo (50) and Dawa (30). The names of the other two men are not known. Soepa (40 to 50 years old) was released after going blind.
“The very fact that so little is known about this case after all this time illustrates the police state that Tibetans live with on a daily basis,” said Adams. “Almost everything related to public security is treated as a state secret and there is no public accountability, even when there is evidence of severe torture.”
The slaughterhouse had been a point of contention with local herdsmen since its construction in 2004. Local officials were reportedly paid bribes of $11,000 to facilitate the construction of the privately-owned slaughterhouse. After its construction, local Tibetans reportedly came under pressure from local authorities to sell their livestock to the new slaughterhouse.
Local pastoralists also claim that at the time they were suffering from the theft of their livestock, which was being sold to the slaughterhouse. While the slaughterhouse told them it was taking steps to avoid acquiring stolen livestock, authorities of the Derge County Public Security Bureau allegedly failed to respond to the pastoralists’ complaints.
In this case, as in other cases in Sershul County, Sichuan province, local religious figures attempted unsuccessfully to intervene to reach a peaceful settlement by offering financial compensation in exchange for closing the facilities. Those familiar with the events in Manigango believe that local pastoralists were emboldened to attack the slaughterhouse because it was not government-owned.
“That local officials continue to deny this incident even took place is typical of efforts to cover up human rights abuses in the region,” said Adams. “It is thus vital that the authorities clarify the legal status of the detainees and allow immediate access to them.”