By Kath Davey
A new report from Amnesty International, titled Persistent Human Rights Violations in Tibet, indicates that repression of dissent there has increased. Hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns, some of them child novices, are imprisoned for peacefully promoting independence from China.
Torture, ill-treatment and unfair trials are often part of the reality for Tibetans of all ages. Monks and nuns have taken the lead in such demonstrations, partly because the Chinese authorities have placed restrictions on religious activities. Photographs of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, have been banned, and strict limits have been placed on the number of monks and nuns.
By the end of 1994, there were more than 600 political prisoners in Tibet, nearly one in three being women. This figure includes 45 young people under the age of 18 at the time of their arrest. In the first quarter of this year, 123 people are reported to have been arrested in connection with peaceful pro-independence activities or police raids on monasteries and convents. Those arrested include 50 nuns and 68 monks. Most of them are believed to be held for the peaceful exercise of fundamental human rights.
China has breached its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This prohibits torture and ill-treatment of children and obligates signatories to separate child prisoners from adults and use imprisonment of a child only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time.
Amnesty has received evidence that juvenile political detainees in Tibet are routinely mixed with adult political prisoners under harsh conditions of detention, including hard labour. Torture is frequently used during interrogation or as punishment in prisons or in "reform through labour" camps.
Tibetan children have often been detained as prisoners of conscience for chanting slogans and peacefully demonstrating. In violation of both Chinese and international law, children have reportedly been held incommunicado, denied trials, beaten, made to do heavy labour with adults and subjected to electric shocks.
Some political prisoners detained during the past two years have been held without charge or trial, while others were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials. Amnesty International is concerned that trial procedures in Tibet, as elsewhere in China, fall far short of international standards of fairness. The right to defence is extremely limited, while confessions, often extracted under torture, are used as evidence. Defendants have no right to call witnesses and have little time or facilities to prepare their defence.
Chapa Tsondrue and Lobsand Choezin, both 17 at the time of their arrest in 1994, are novice monks who joined two others in chanting slogans protesting a police raid against a convent outside the capital, Lhasa. All four were severely beaten when arrested and remain in Gutza Detention Centre.
Following severe ill-treatment, young adult monks and nuns died shortly after being released from prison. A 20-year-old Tibetan nun died last year after serving part of a five-year prison sentence for taking part in a brief pro-independence demonstration in 1992. Chinese officials said Phuntsog Yanghkyi, considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty, died from a tuberculoma.
Amnesty International believes that the official account of the cause of her death is not satisfactory. Independent experts say tuberculoma should not cause death provided that normal medical care is available.
Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese government to:
- release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience;
- investigate all reports of torture;
- ensure those held in detention are charged and brought to trial promptly and fairly, or released;
- fully implement its commitments to observe the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
[Kath Davey is the Victorian regional coordinator for Amnesty International.]