WASHINGTON—Authorities in the remote northwestern Chinese province of Gansu are still holding four young Tibetans in connection with pro-independence graffiti in their village, amid reports that the boys have been mistreated in custody.
“There have been reports that the children are visibly bruised, that electric prods have been used on them, and that on occasion the children were actually hooded,” Mickey Spiegel, a China researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said.
The four boys, aged 15, were detained last month for allegedly writing slogans calling for Tibetan independence on the walls of buildings in Amchok Bora village, where they attended school.
The boys have been denied contact with lawyers and their families, according to several sources.
Another boy, aged 14, is said to be in a hospital in Labrang (in Chinese, Xiahe) county, reportedly for head injuries sustained in a beating in detention, Spiegel said.
The four older boys were identified as Chopa Kyab, Tamdrin Kyab, Gonphel, and Dukar Tashi, sources in the area told RFA’s Tibetan service.
They’ve been singled out from the community, perhaps to give a signal or a warning to the rest of the community.
An official at the Labrang detention center confirmed that four boys were being held there but denied they had been mistreated.
Spiegel said that Chopa Kyab was thought to have been singled out by authorities as the ringleader and had been removed several times from his cell at night, probably for interrogation.
“There are real concerns about his physical and psychological condition,” Spiegel said.
Two other 14-year-old boys detained with the group in September had already been allowed to go home following payment by their families of a fine, sources told RFA.
Now there are reports that the four still being held may also be released to their families if money is paid. But the fines for all four will have to be paid together, Spiegel added.
“None of the children will be released until the fines, or bribes, have been paid for all the children.”
Kate Saunders, communications director for the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, said there was no clear evidence linking the boys to the graffiti.
“Actually, we don’t even know if they scribbled the graffiti on the walls. We don’t know if it was even these boys who did it.”
“But certainly they’ve been singled out from the community, perhaps to give a signal or a warning to the rest of the community.”
The sense of Tibetan national identity was very strong in the Labrang area, she added.
“The Chinese authorities have stepped up and intensified their anti-Dalai Lama campaign in areas of eastern Tibet, and that’s having quite a dramatic effect,” she said.
China has been stepping up campaigns against supporters of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence across Tibet and the traditionally Tibetan nomadic areas of Gansu and Sichuan, according to recent reporting from RFA’s Tibetan service.
Saunders said the more aggressive policies were provoking despair and frustration among Tibetans. “The sort of confrontational policies that China is using at the moment may be increasing the risk of unrest and dissent in this local area.”
“Much of this area is nomadic, and the economic development policies that are being implemented by Beijing at the moment are having a dramatic impact on nomad lifestyles,” she said, adding that major resettlement of nomads all over eastern Tibetan areas was making life harder at the same time.
“This is also causing a lot of problems, because nomads are losing their land. They’re often losing their livelihood as well. Levels of poverty and rural-urban inequality are on the increase,” she said.
The Buddhist monastery at Labrang, founded in 1709, is one of the largest monasteries in the Tibetan cultural region, housing somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 monks. It has recently also been subjected to intensified political campaigns and restrictions.
Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Written for the Web in English by Richard Finney and Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.