Arrests and prison sentences
The Chinese government routinely detain, torture and imprison Tibetans who speak out against the Communist Party regime and its oppressive policies in Tibet. There are currently over 600 Tibetan political prisoners in Tibet, as verified by the US Congressional – Executive Commission on China political prisoner database.
In December 2012, the Chinese Supreme Court announced new charges of “intentional homicide” for those suspected of aiding or abetting self-immolation protests. To date, at least ten Tibetans have been charged with “intentional homicide”. On 31 January 2013, Lobsang Kunchok received a death sentence suspended for two years. Others have been given sentences ranging from seven to 15 years.
The introduction of “intentional homicide” charges came as Chinese authorities began to enforce collective punishments for families, villages and monasteries connected to self-immolations. These punishments included the loss of welfare aid for families, the withdrawal of development funding for villages and the threat of closure for monasteries. The use of collective punishment is contrary to international human rights law.
Since January 2013, prison sentences meted out for “political crimes” have also hardened. For example: Tibetans who have simply participated in peaceful street protests or reported on such protests have received sentences of up to four years; Lolo, a singer, was jailed for six years having released an album with ‘political’ lyrics; and, Yarphel, a monk, was imprisoned for 15 months for taking part in a funeral procession for his deceased nephew who had self-immolated.
The rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and all of its subsequent member states including the People’s Republic of China. In 1998, China signed the ICCPR but has yet to ratify it. In addition, Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees citizens “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”.
Political prisoners released
There are also concerns for nine Tibetan political prisoners recently released from prison. All nine were released in very poor health, most likely as a result of maltreatment, torture and hard labour whilst in prison, as well as poor prison conditions. The Chinese authorities are known to release prisoners in ill-health to ensure they do not die in prison. Once released, former prisoners and their families are often subject to continued surveillance and harassment from the authorities, with many living under virtual house arrest.