04/30/2008, 00.00
TIBET – CHINA

Beijing imposes life in prison, uses torture, to test world reaction, says Tibetan leader

Urgen Tenzin
Urgen Tenzin talks about the sentencing of 17 Tibetans (including two life terms) for taking part in protests in March in Lhasa. For decades Tibetans have been tortured in prison to extort confessions. Many fear state violence may increase. Two people die in more clashes in Tibetan Qinghai.

Dharamsala (AsiaNews) – Urgen Tenzin, executive director of the Tibetan Centre For Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), talked in an exclusive interview with AsiaNews about a report by China’s state news agency Xinhua concerning 17 Tibetans arrested for taking part in the 14 March protests in Lhasa that were repressed by the Chinese army. Meanwhile Xinhua yesterday acknowledged that a gunfight took place on Monday in Dori County, in the Tibetan part of Qinghai Province between police, which was trying to arrest a local pro-Tibet leader, and the population. A policeman and a Tibetan were killed in the incident.

“Since the deadline of 17 March given by the Chinese authorities to the peaceful protestors to surrender, more than 5,000 Tibetans have been arrested by the Chinese police.  More than one thousand have been subjected to brutality and torture and many of those who were released are in a very delicate state of mind and body. Many of the Tibetans who come out of detention centres are in unstable condition,” Urgen Tenzin said.

“As far as the treatment for these 17 ‘accused’ is concerned, they will be tortured inside prison.  Chinese officials have been indoctrinated by a ruthless political ideology that views torture as a legitimate tool to eliminate the ‘elements of counter-revolution’.”

“The United Nations Human Rights Commission has intervened on the Tibet issue and has written to the Chinese Government to allow the Special Rappeteur on Religion and the Special Rappeteur on Arbitrary Detention to visit Tibet and review the internal situation, but China has not agreed to the UN request and has been unwilling to invite them into Tibet.”

Beijing claims that the trial of the 17 Tibetans was fair and just but Human Rights Watch reported yesterday that a group of lawyers who had offered to represent them were “warned” by China’s Justice Ministry that in doing so they might jeopardise their licence to practice law might not be renewed.

“In my opinion, China is testing the response of the international community by making the arrests public.  Given the media spotlight on China because of the Beijing Olympics and the attempted pressure by the world leaders on the Chinese government, the Chinese are trying to see how world leaders will react to these arrests and how far the international community will go when it comes to Tibet.  Given the small number of people involved and the lack of details it seems a crafty ploy on their part to test international waters. And this is just the beginning because gradually more arrests will take place and more sentences will be handed down; possibly from confessions extorted with torture.”

“Since the 10 March peaceful protests, Tibetans languishing inside prisons have been accused by the Chinese of ‘endangering state security’.  Just expressing a point of view that goes against government policy leads to arrest for ‘political dissent’ and ‘subversive opinions’'. Chinese officials have made statements to the effect that Tibetans have confessed; this is likely what will happen to the 17 who were arrested and tragically the world will be informed that they had ‘confessed’ their crimes.”

“But these so called confessions would have been extracted as a result of torture. The Chinese are known to use torture as an instrument of ‘state control’ on Tibetans, guilty of ‘political dissent’ and ‘subversive opinions’.  Tibetans have been arrested and tortured for speaking with foreigners, singing patriotic songs, possessing photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and so on; these things have been going on for many, many years.”

“At the moment, our monasteries are surrounded by military forces, and under the strict surveillance of Chinese police.  The situation inside Tibet is very tense, and we are extremely concerned. As the countdown to the Beijing Olympics begins, the extreme clampdown of information is taking place and this only bodes ill for our fellow Tibetans.”

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