KATHMANDU—A Tibetan youth detained for his role in a nonviolent protest has been beaten to death by police, Tibetan sources say.
Pema Tsepak, 24, a resident of Punda town in the Dzogang county of Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture, had been held in police custody for his role in a demonstration against Chinese rule in Tsawa Dzogang since Jan. 20.
A Tibetan who would not give his name, but said he was from Punda town, said Chinese authorities were trying to cover up the circumstances of Pema Tsepak’s death.
“Chinese officials said he jumped off a building, but we believe he was beaten to death and then thrown off the building,” the man said.
Tibetans in exile, originally residents of the same area, said that contacts there had informed them of the incident.
Namgyal Tsering, a Tibetan living in Delhi, India, said in an interview that Pema Tsepak had been hospitalized following mistreatment at the hands of his captors.
“He was so severely beaten that his kidneys and intestines were badly damaged. He was initially taken to Dzogang [county] hospital, but they could not treat him, and they took him to Chamdo hospital instead,” Tsering said.
Another Tibetan, who did not give his name, said he saw Pema Tsepak in handcuffs as authorities brought him to Dzogang county hospital to treat his injuries.
Nyima Norbu, a Tibetan living in Dharamsala, India, seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, said that local officials had confirmed Pema Tsepak’s death.
“Chinese police informed Dzogang officials that Pema Tsepak had died in Chamdo and that his body will be cremated there,” Nyima Norbu, also a Dzogang native, said.
Ruled a suicide
Jamyang, the brother of a Tibetan official from Punda town where Pema Tsepak lived, said that one family member of each of the three detainees had traveled to Dzogang to visit with them.
They were told upon arrival that the detainees had been moved to Chamdo.
“Only one person could go to visit them in Chamdo. Finally Lobsang Jampa, the elder brother of Pema Tsepak, was taken there. When he reached Chamdo, he was informed that his brother Pema Tsepak had jumped from the top of a building and died,” Jamyang said, in an interview from Canada.
Calls seeking comment from police in Chamdo went unanswered.
Jamyang said that while Lobsang Jampa traveled to Chamdo, a convoy of 18 vehicles, including army trucks carrying soldiers and officials, arrived in Punda town and began searching the homes of the detainees.
“They searched the homes of the [detainees] and took away photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When officials reached Pema Tsepak's home, they informed his family members of his death. They said that Pema Tsepak had attacked a police officer with a knife and then jumped from the window of the building and died,” Jamyang said.
Protesters rounded up
On Jan. 20, Pema Tsepak, Thinley Ngodrub, 24; and his brother Thargyal, 23, were attacked and detained by police as they walked towards the local police headquarters in Tsawa Dzogang. They were carrying a white banner reading “Independence for Tibet,” distributing fliers, and shouting slogans against Chinese rule.
A 19 year-old girl named Dechen Wangmo, found in possession of Pema Tsepak’s mobile phone, was also detained.
Namgyal Tsering said that in a separate incident on Jan. 22, three Tibetans, including Thinley Gyatso, 44; Tashi Norbu, 29; and Lobsang Lhamo, 27, were also detained immediately after staging a protest.
“Except for one boy, the rest are all from Punda town," he said.
Nyima Norbu said that Thinley Gyatso, Dechen Wangmo, and Lobsang Lhamo had been released, but that the others were still in custody.
“Tashi Norbu is detained at the Dzogang county jail, while the other two protestors are still detained in Chamdo,” he said.
Tensions in the Tibetan region are expected to escalate around the one-year anniversary of a crackdown in March 2008 on anti-China demonstrations and the 50th anniversary, also in March, of a failed national rebellion.
China’s Sichuan province and other Tibetan-populated areas of China saw repeated protests last year following demonstrations in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, which led to violent riots on March 14.
Tibet’s government in exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent region-wide crackdown. China has meanwhile reported police as having killed just one “insurgent” and blames Tibetan “rioters” for the deaths of 21 people.
Original reporting by Dorjee Damdul for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.