Rare testimony details complicity of local officials and police in crushing villagers who call for investigation into death of local woman

  • A rare appeal to Xi Jinping has emerged from Tibet by a group of Tibetan villagers whose attempts to seek justice for the death of a local woman were met with a brutal crackdown by police acting in complicity with local officials.
  • The account, from the Kardze (Ganzi) area of eastern Tibet, took more than six months to reach the outside world, indicating the intensified restrictions and efforts by the Chinese authorities in Tibet to block the flow of information and cover up such incidents.
  • It reveals the extent of the impunity of local officials and police “conspiring to use force to bully the common people”, according to the villagers – a reality that the Chinese government seeks to obscure by emphasizing ‘rule of law’ and ‘stability’ in its grass roots propaganda work and its intensifying focus on measures of control over the Tibetan population.



The five Tibetan herders linked to Tsering Tso, who died, who have been sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Depicted in the photos in this order are: Draksang and Rabten; Wanggon; Kunsang; Palden Rigzin and Rabten (as in first photograph).

Tsering Tso, the woman who died, was found hanging from a bridge.
The appeal, obtained and translated into English by ICT below, is a rare and detailed testimony recounting the consequences of a protest by local villagers after a Tibetan woman, Tsering Tso, was found dead, hanging from a local bridge. A local lama and two policemen believed to be responsible for her death have not been investigated or charged. Armed security forces were sent to suppress the Tibetan villagers, focusing particularly on the relatives of the woman who died, and “over 40 people from Ragya village were arrested, tied up and beaten with metal clubs, shedding so much blood that the stray dogs could not finish lapping it up.”

The document called for an investigation into the death, and for the release of five Tibetan herders – believed to be connected to the woman who died either as relatives or locals in the community – who have been tortured and sentenced to two and a half years in prison, according to exile Tibetan sources. ICT has been able to confirm that the document, which states it is written in the name of more than 700 people from different villages, is authentic.

The sequence of events occurred last October (2015) but the villagers, feeling that they had no other recourse, took the rare step of attempting to document it in full and appeal to the highest levels of the Chinese leadership in June (2016). They wrote: “We hope that Xi Jinping and the top leaders will support us, and that the rest of the world could understand our pain. No enquiry has been held into Tsering Tso’s death, while local officials and leaders from Kardze county level upwards have conspired to use force to bully the common people.”

Referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption, the villagers, who are from 13 communities in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Kham), say: “It is our hope that where Chinese government laws and regulations are seriously flouted, in grave cases of corruption like this, Xi Jinping and the top leadership will investigate and rectify.”

The villagers expressed their frustration that their genuine grievances are politicized by the authorities, who describe their anger at the death of Tsering Tso and lack of official accountability as ‘splittist’, and used by the authorities as justification for the use of violent force to suppress and silence them. They describe how, after locals gathered at the police station to complain about what they allege is murder, “The two police [implicated] falsely reported to the county police station that local people had staged a political and splittist protest against the state. On October 10, 1000 soldiers sent by Kardze county and prefecture came and beat up all the villagers they could find, especially Tsering Tso’s relatives. […] Then they were piled up like corpses in the back of a truck and taken to the detention centre in Kardze county. There they were beaten again, and asked questions, but since they had committed no political offence, after a few months, they started to release them one by one, but they had been so badly beaten that on release their families had to come and take them, otherwise they had all become invalids and were unable to get home by themselves. There was not one who was not hospitalised after returning home.”

According to Tibetan sources, five herders close to Tsering Tso’s family were sentenced in May to two and a half years in prison.

The monk Golog Jigme, former political prisoner and leading human rights defender, who received a copy of the document in exile in Switzerland, said: “This document was written because the people felt they had no other recourse; they were deeply distressed that there has been no response from the local authorities to their genuine concerns. It is very wrong that they have been accused of splittism. This is a social justice issue and should not be mixed up with politics, as the authorities have sought to do. Social problems require social solutions. If the Chinese government is serious in its campaign against corruption there needs to be an immediate investigation into this tragic death and the terrible circumstances, and the cover-up must end. The Chinese authorities should not seek to politicize the genuine grievances and concerns of the local people.”

The time taken for the document to emerge and to be made public is indicative of the authorities’ efforts to block communications in the area after the events. The letter details that: “Local communications were shut down during the crackdown on October 10, and a few witnesses who tried to take photos were arrested, as the police had prepared beforehand by placing spies around to watch, and severely beaten, and their cameras, iphones etc confiscated. From that day, phone lines in the entire Qu area were cut off, and communication lines remained closed for the next four months. Even after that, they remained closed in Tsalung township, and in Tsering Tso’s native Ragya village, they are still closed at the time of writing (June 1, 2016).”

The brutality of the response towards the Tibetan villagers in Kardze is consistent with the use of excessive force instead of addressing grievances of Tibetans across Tibet, as evidenced by the authorities’ reactions to the unrest across Tibet in 2008 and in ongoing protests against, for example, discriminatory educational policies, environmental destruction, restriction on religion, or loss of cultural identity. The Chinese authorities have also intensified deliberate attempts to penalize families and the broader community following incidents of unrest, genuine expressions of concern, or protests such as self-immolation.[1]

Although the PRC officially prohibits torture, it has become endemic in Tibet, a result both of a political emphasis on ensuring ‘stability’ and a culture of impunity among officials, paramilitary troops and security personnel. Despite Chinese official assertions that China’s legislative, administrative, and judicial departments have adopted measures against torture, there are no indications of investigations into allegations of torture and mistreatment, let alone into cases of Tibetans who have been subjected to arbitrary detentions.[2]

The document, translated into English from the original Tibetan by ICT below, is included below. ICT is reproducing the document in full.

A direct testament of the unbearable suffering of Tibetans under Chinese oppression

These days the Chinese Communists are claiming and announcing how they are building a perfect Tibet and how free and happy Tibetans are in China, but now we have no option but to show the world an actual example of the real suffering endured by the people of the three regions of Tibet under Chinese oppression.

  1. The region concerned was traditionally known as the 13 communities of Gertse Datarma, land of the Mukpo Dong clan, in the province of lower east Tibet, or commonly known as the 13 communities of Dayul. These days, it has been apportioned by the Chinese Communists to Kardze [Ganzi] county in the Kardze prefecture of Sichuan province.[3]

    On October 5, 2015, a terrible tragedy occurred in our homeland. We have not publicised it so far, hoping for a positive response from the government, but now we have no choice but to appeal to the wider world.

  2. The background to the tragedy.

    The main monastery in the area is called Gertse Dralak monastery, and the incarnate lama of the monastery, known as Nenang Tulku, is a person of bad character. He has had relationships with several women, and then rejected them when they became pregnant. This happened repeatedly, and he rejected them without providing them the slightest assistance. During 2015, he found a new girlfriend, a woman called Tsering Tso, aged 27. Her father is called Topo and her mother Yudi. She is from Ragya village in Tsalung township under Datarma Qu, in Kardze county. Although Nenang Tulku is such a bad character, most people respect him out of blind faith because of his title.[4]

    On October 4, 2015, he called Tsering Tso’s old father Topo and asked him to bring his daughter. That afternoon, the old man brought his daughter the 7 km from their home to the Tulku’s place in Datarma Qu. When they got there, Nenang Tulku was in the local police station drinking beer with the two young policemen who are usually there, but her father took her up to the Lama’s place and then went straight back home. The two young policemen are called Dorje and Tsering, they are Tibetans from Kardze county, and they are unmarried men who live alone.

    Shockingly, on the morning of October 5, Tsering Tso’s dead body, with make-up on her face and wearing trousers, was found hanging by the neck from the bridge in Datarma Qu. Once it had been identified as her, her relatives examined the body and found that her neck joint was dislocated. They went looking for Nenang Tulku, but he was nowhere to be found. They went to ask the two young police who had been with him the previous day where the lama was, and how the woman had died, but they would only say that they didn’t know.

    An elderly female relative of Tsering Tso lived on a house nearby Dralak monastery, which is next to the Qu, but at that time she was away and the outer door was locked. However, the two police and the lama had been seen outside her door on the night of the 4th. So her relatives and the community felt that they had something to do with her death. They suspected that the men may have raped and murdered her, or in any case they had killed her, and then put make up and trousers on her and hung her from the bridge to make it look like suicide.

  3. Public suspicion and ostracism of the two policemen.

    After the policemen denied any knowledge of her death or the Lama’s whereabouts, her relatives and neighbors became angry and threw stones at the police office and car. They did not however throw stones or even touch the policemen, or any other local officials, nor did they set fire to the police station or car. In fact, they should have reported such a serious matter to the higher authorities, but we are just herders with no knowledge of legal matters, and other than getting angry ourselves, we did not know what else to do.

  4. The police represent public anger as political and splittist in nature, and bring soldiers to suppress them.

    After stones were thrown, the two police falsely reported to the county police station that local people had staged a political and splittist protest against the state. On October 10 [2015], 1000 soldiers sent by Kardze county and prefecture came and beat up all the villagers they could find, especially Tsering Tso’s relatives. Over 40 people from Ragya village were arrested, tied up and beaten with metal clubs, shedding so much blood that the stray dogs could not finish lapping it up. Then they were piled up like corpses in the back of a truck and taken to the detention centre in Kardze county. There they were beaten again, and asked questions, but since they had committed no political offence, after a few months, they started to release them one by one, but they had been so badly beaten that on release their families had to come and take them, otherwise they had all become invalids and were unable to get home by themselves. There was not one who was not hospitalised after returning home.

  5. Phone lines and communications shut down, people taking photographs of the police action beaten and detained.

    Local communications were shut down during the crackdown on October 10, and a few witnesses who tried to take photos were arrested, as the police had prepared beforehand by placing spies around to watch, and severely beaten, and their cameras, iphones etc confiscated.

    From that day, phone lines in the entire Qu area were cut off, and communication lines remained closed for the next four months. Even after that, they remained closed in Tsalung township, and in Tsering Tso’s native Ragya village, they are still closed at the time of writing (June 1, 2016).

  6. Released prisoners.

    When the detainees’ relatives were called to collect them at the time of release, there was loss of life due to road accident. On November 18, relatives of 23 year old Delek were called to take him from the detention centre, and his two relatives Kunpo and Karma went next day, but on the way they were hit by a motorbike and Delek lost his life.

  7. Five innocent herders still in detention.

    Five people out of the 40 or so detainees have not been released. They are Kunzang age 36, Palden Rikzin age 23, Drakzang age 28, Rabten age 39, Wanggon age 42.[5] In fact, they too are innocent, as the police know, but because they refused to sign a statement that the two policemen in the Qu were not responsible for Tsering Tso’s murder, they have not been released and continue to suffer mistreatment in detention. The public still suspect that those two policemen were responsible, and the police have no proof whatsoever that it was not them, but without conducting any investigation, the Kardze county police are demanding that the remaining 5 detainees sign the statement. This is unjust and against the PRC constitution.

    If they are really innocent, the public should be shown proof, and then their doubts will be put to rest, and the detainees will admit that they were wrong. But if the five are obliged to sign the statement under torture and without any evidence being produced, this is a serious case of injustice.

  8. Y350,000 bribe for the local leaders.

    It was said that a bribe of Y350,000 to the top county officials including county leader Chakdo, and the police officials, would get the detainees released. So the common people paid the bribe through the mediation of Ma-trul Dolo-tsang, [another] Lama of Dralak monastery, but the bribe was just taken by them and did no good at all.

  9. Honest officials like township leader Pema Dechen dismissed.

    Pema Dechen, head of the Tsalung township to which Ragya village belongs, is a decent person of good character. He appealed verbally and in writing to the county authorities that there should be an enquiry into Tsering Tso’s death, that the local people had done nothing wrong, and that the detainees had not committed any serious crime. But the county leaders told him that he had not done a good job of educating the public, and he was dismissed.[6]

  10. Detainees sentenced on false charges.

    Shockingly, on May 20, 2016, the remaining five detainees were given two and a half year prison sentences by the county court. The reason given was a document calling for them to be sentenced, bearing the thumbprints of five locals. […][7] It was also claimed that township leader Pema Dechen and a group of senior Dralak monks including Khenpo Tenzin Ozer/Tupo had called for them to be sentenced, which is completely false.

  11. Local Chinese government officials think they can outwit illiterate herders.

    Sadly, those five were deceived into putting their thumbprints on the document. One day a few months ago, those five and Tsering Tso’s father Topo were called to the police station at 9 the following morning. Topo had gone elsewhere and there was no one home, while those five thought that they were going to be put back in prison. When they went to the police station next morning, the police showed them three computer printouts all in Chinese language with photos of the people in prison attached, and asked “Do you know whose pictures these are?” When they replied so, the police said “In that case, you must write your names and put your fingerprints on each one.” After writing their names, each of them was made to put their fingerprint on the documents, but none of them could read a word of Chinese, and the police did not explain the contents at all, or the need to sign them.

    It did not occur to those five that the police would later use the signed papers for ulterior purposes. But at the time of the trial of those five innocent prisoners, the police produced those papers and claimed that they were being sentenced to 2.5 years because [the five other Tibetans mentioned earlier] had signed statements asking for them to be sentenced.

  12. In fact, not a single local person asked for those five to be prosecuted.

    [The five Tibetans] had never made any such request, nor did Khenpo Tupo/Tenzin Ozer or any of the other monastery seniors – on the contrary, they had made several appeals to the Kardze county police and other officials that these detainees had done nothing wrong and should be released. The leaders however not only rejected the wishes of the masses, but tried to stir up dissension among the masses.

  13. We hope that Xi Jinping and the top leaders will support us, and that the rest of the world could understand our pain.

    No enquiry has been held into Tsering Tso’s death, while local officials and leaders from Kardze county level upwards have conspired to use force to bully the common people. It is our hope that where Chinese government laws and regulations are seriously flouted, in grave cases of corruption like this, Xi Jinping and the top leadership will investigate and rectify.

    Rather than enduring injustice in silence, we are writing this appeal in the name of over 700 residents of the Tsalung, Kyaklung, Datoe and Rakor townships under Datarma Qu in Kardze county, Kardze prefecture, Sichuan province on June 1, 2016 and making it known to the outside world.



Footnotes:
[1] In a set of regulations passed in April 2013 in one of the areas where several self-immolations have occurred, the entire community is faced with financial and other penalties. See ICT report, ‘Acts of Significant Evil’, https://www.savetibet.org/acts-of-significant-evil-report/

[2] ICT report on torture and impunity, https://www.savetibet.org/newsroom/torture-and-impunity-29-cases-of-tibetan-political-prisoners/

[3] Kardze, one of 18 counties in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, was known after the wave of protests swept Tibet in 2008 as the site of more known political detentions of Tibetans by Chinese authorities than any other county outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) since the current period of Tibetan political activism began in 1987, based on data available in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Political Prisoner Database (PPD). (CECC, Party, Government Launch New Security Program, Patriotic Education, in Tibetan Area)

[4] This is a telling comment, indicative of the deep religious faith of many Tibetans. The issue of ‘fake lamas’ has caused much controversy in Tibet and China recently. Just as there are increasing numbers of sincere Chinese Buddhist practitioners who follow genuine Tibetan lamas, there are also a number of fake ‘Living Buddhas’ who seek to exploit followers, and some individuals who pose as lamas and attempt to exploit people’s beliefs. In December, 2015, a self-proclaimed ‘Living Buddha’ in Hong Kong – whose filmed ordination of a Chinese actor Zhang Tielin went viral – issued an apology and resigned from all his posts after a Tibetan monastery denied certifying him. (See ICT report, December 22, 2015, https://www.savetibet.org/communist-party-official-known-for-virulent-attacks-on-dalai-lama-comes-under-unprecedented-criticism/). The Dalai Lama has on numerous occasions expressed concern about the number of fake lamas and the risks of exploitation of their followers.

[5] According to new information from Tibetan sources in exile, all five herders were sentenced to two and a half years in prison in May.

[6] This follows a pattern in which moderate officials are penalized, in a political climate of impunity for violent oppression.

[7] Names omitted by ICT.

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