The nature of the Chinese administration of Tibet is colonialist - by repression of the people for the exploitation of resources. One area where this is largely evident is in the administration of justice where the entire Party, government and judicial structure in Tibet has been mobilised to eradicate the independence movement.
Almost all aspects of political unrest in Tibet can be traced back to one underlying theme: the desire of Tibetans for independence and the return of the Dalai Lama from exile. By the early-1980s, the independence movement was not a great threat for the Chinese Government, but it was enough to worry the authorities. The entire Party, government and judicial structure in Tibet has been directed at eradicating the independence movement. Consequently, this has encouraged officials in the prison judicial system to treat Tibetan nationalists as beyond the protection of even the most basic legal safeguards set out in China's criminal legislation (Defying the Dragon: China and Human Rights in Tibet, Lawasia & Tibet Information Network March 1991; p.54).
In China the rule of law is subordinate to the stability of the state. In Tibet the law of the People's Republic of China is used for the prevention of the "splitting of the motherland". Non-violent opposition to the occupation of the Chinese is met with charges of "counterrevolution" and the offender categorised as an enemy of the people. Chinese authorities regard that anyone arrested for nationalist activities does not deserve to be protected by the law, essentially because they have forfeited their right to be considered part of "the people" (Defying the Dragon; p.31).
There are no effective official channels through which detainees or a representative can make complaints. If a friend or relative does, they are likely to be brought under suspicion as an independence sympathiser. Furthermore, the Public Security Bureau, which is responsible for the welfare of political prisoners in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), plays a major. frontline role in breaking up demonstrations, monitoring
and arresting suspects and conducting investigations.
Thousands of Tibetans are in custody for political reasons. Accurate figures, however, are impossible to determine due to the reluctance of the Chinese Government to provide any information and their
insistence that political prisoners are only criminals. Further confusion is created by the system of administrative detention which allows for long periods of detention under "forced labour" without the need for trial. Since August 1989, the names of at least 27 Tibetans sentenced to up to three years "re-education through labour" have been publicly announced. Reports from Tibet, however, suggest that at least 60 Tibetans may have been given such sentences in Lhasa since August 1989 (Defying the Dragon; p. 36).
Tibetans only have recourse through international law and by contacting human rights groups. There is evidence that China has responded to international pressure, but, in general, China continues to breach its obligations under the Convention Against Torture. China has also failed to observe in Tibet prohibitions against torture written out in its own domestic legislation.
All talk of Tibetan independence threatens the unity of the "motherland". It is regarded as counter-revolutionary, and since 1951 has in many cases been a capital offence (Tears of Blood: A Cry for Tibet, Mary Craig, 1992; p.234). Counter-revolution is defined in Article 90 of the PRC Chinese Criminal Law as acts "committed with the goal of overthrowing the political power of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist system." Many counter-revolutionary offences carry the death penalty (Defying the Dragon; p.39).
Seemingly minor acts of non-violent protest are met with the "iron fist". Tibetans who openly express political dissent to Western tourists, or who collect information about conditions in Tibet and try to forward it to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile or Western human rights groups are particularly at risk.
In 1987, Yulu Dawa Tsering was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for spreading "counter-revolutionary" propaganda. His crime was to have a conversation with a Western tourist. He had said: "May Tibet be released from the mouth of the wolf", and he hoped for a peaceful achievement of Tibetan independence (Defying the Dragon; p. 40).
Wang Langjie was sentenced to an unspecified term of imprisonment in January 1990 for "wandering about the environs of Beijing East Road... yelling 'Tibetan independence' and other 'reactionary slogans"' ('China holds public "counter-revolutionary" trial in Tibet: Reuters, 04/02/90, quoting Tibet Daily, 24/01/90). Tibetan tour guide Gendun Rinchen and Lobsang Yonten, a former monk, were arrested in May 1993. They had been monitoring human rights and Rinchen planned to deliver a human rights report to a visiting delegation of European diplomats. The Chinese authorities have accused them of "stealing state secrets". This is an extremely serious "counter-revolutionary" crime which could incur the death penalty.
Tibetans suspected of opposing policies of the PRC in Tibet have been held as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience for lengthy periods, some for decades. The charges against these people are often unknown and many dissidents, especially before 1987, were sentenced or executed without trial. Between October 1987 and July 1989 only about a dozen Tibetan political prisoners were known to have been formally charged with criminal offences and tried by a court. The Chinese authorities, however, started to bring to trial scores of Tibetan political prisoners, the exact numbers are not clear, after a new policy was instigated in August 1989 (Defying the Dragon; p.34). According to Article 125 of the PRC Constitution, "the accused has the right of defence". However, there is no known case of a Tibetan receiving legal assistance prior to, or during, the hearing. It seems that normal judicial procedures have been abridged. The Chinese criminal justice system in Tibet also has no presumption of innocence. There is no known case of a Tibetan defendant accused of political crimes being acquitted (Defying the Dragon; p.35).
The PRC Criminal Procedure Law states that all trials be public, except those dealing with state secrets, private individual matters or minors (Articles 8 and 11, PRC Criminal Procedural Law). In reality, however, most trials in Tibet are held in secret or before a specially selected audience (Defying the Dragon; p.34). It is very difficult to obtain first-hand accounts of political trials in Tibet. However, there is one recorded eyewitness report of a public trial of two monks from Ngarong Monastery, held in Rigong, March 1990. They were detained in Autumn 1989 after unfurling a Tibetan national flag in the street. Neither of the accused was represented. Nor were they given the chance to defend themselves. The monks were sentenced to one, and one and a half years imprisonment respectively, for counter-revolutionary crimes (Defying the Dragon; p. 35).
The average term of imprisonment since the trials began in 1989 seems to be six and a half years. There have been prison sentences of up to 19 years handed down to Tibetans found guilty of counter-revolutionary offences. There is growing speculation that Tibetan political prisoners have been executed. However, it is unclear whether any Tibetans have been executed since autumn 1987 because of their political activities (Defying the Dragon; p. 36).
There is overwhelming evidence that torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are a routine part of detention in police stations, detention centres, labour camps and prisons in Tibet. First-hand reports from released prisoners describe the use of electric batons applied to the torso, mouth, soles of feet and genitals; the use of lighted cigarettes to inflict burns; the use of truncheons or rifle butts for beatings; the use of dogs to bite detainees; and the use of manacles and chains to restrain prisoners for long periods. They also describe the practice of making people stand outside for several days at a time - sometimes on blocks of ice. Reports of juveniles being tortured and Tibetans dying in prison as a result of torture and other mistreatment have also been received (Defying the Dragon; pp.47-53).
Conditions in prison are often very poor. Released prisoners interviewed have stated that the food is insufficient and of such poor quality that it causes diarrhoea and other digestive disorders. Many former prisoners have described a rule prohibiting inmates from speaking to each other. Reports consistently suggest that medical care in the prisons is inadequate, limited to very basic first aid for what are sometimes serious injuries or illnesses (Defying the Dragon; pp.51-52).
For case studies see:
'People's Republic of China: Persistent Human Rights Violations in Tibet Amnesty International, May 1995;
People's Republic of China: Repression in Tibet, 19871992 Amnesty International, May 1992;
'Defying the Dragon '; and TIN Bulletins.
All attempts to discuss Tibet are bedevilled by the Chinese redefinition of the country's borders since 1949. Here the term Tibet is used to refer to the three original provinces of U'Tsang, Kham and Amdo (sometimes called Greater Tibet). When the Chinese refer to Tibet they invariably mean the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which includes only one province, U'Tsang (the TAR was formally inaugurated in 1965). In /949 the other two provinces, Amdo and Kham, were renamed by the Chinese as parts of China proper and became the province of Qinghai and parts of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.