Tibetan Activist Dies After Suspected Beating, Torture in Jail

The Chushur Prison, March 8, 2009.
Photo courtesy of International Campaign for Tibet

A Tibetan political prisoner has died less than six years into his 15-year jail term after suspected beating and torture by Chinese authorities, according to a rights group.

Tenzin Choedak, also known as Tenchoe, died in a hospital in Tibet's capital Lhasa on Friday, just two days after he was released in an extremely weak condition to his family, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said, citing reliable sources.

"Due to beating and torture during the past six years, his chances of survival became slim," TCHRD researcher Tsering Gyal told RFA's Tibetan Service.

According to a source cited by TCHRD, Tenchoe, aged 33, sustained injuries while in police custody following his arrest for leading landmark protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa in 2008. He did not recover from the injuries.

Quoting a local eyewitness, the source said Tenchoe was recently brought to one of the hospitals with his hands and legs heavily shackled, the center said.

"He was almost unrecognizable,” the Dharamsala, India-based TCHRD said in a report. “His physical condition had deteriorated and he had brain injury in addition to vomiting blood.”

Tenzin Choedak, also known as Tenchoe, in an undated photo.
Tenzin Choedak, also known as Tenchoe, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of TCHRD.

Tenchoe, who had previously worked as a social activist for a European nongovernmental group affiliated to the Red Cross, was order jailed for 15 years by the Intermediate People’s Court of Lhasa in September 2008. He was imprisoned in Chushur Prison near Lhasa.

The Lhasa City Public Security Bureau detained Tenchoe, who had also worked on environmental protection projects, in April 2008 on a charge that he acted as one of the ringleaders for the protest in Lhasa.

“The death of Tibetan prisoners resulting from their treatment in detention shows efforts by prison authorities to cover up the deaths by releasing the prisoners, thus contributing to a culture of impunity where torture is allowed to flourish,” said Tsering Tsomo, the executive director of TCHRD.

Early last month, as Tenchoe’s condition deteriorated, prison authorities took him to three different hospitals for treatment, TCHRD said. "After the doctors gave up hope of saving Tenchoe, he was released to his family."

He died two days later at the Mentsekhang, the traditional Tibetan medical institute in Lhasa, hours after his family admitted him there.  

"His death confirms criticisms from human rights groups that torture and inhumane treatment is common in Chinese prisons in Tibet," TCHRD said.

'Brutally tortured'

In March, another Tibetan political prisoner who was “brutally tortured” and suffered other abuses in jail for challenging Chinese rule died following his release from custody before the end of his term.

Goshul Lobsang, 43, who had been beaten so severely that he could not even swallow his food, died on March 19 at his family home in Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern China’s Gansu province, the sources said.

“His condition never improved after he was released, and he remained bedridden until he took his last breath on March 19 at around midnight local time,” a local source told RFA. “He could not say anything, but simply folded his hands and died,” he said.

In recent years, TCHRD said, the Chinese authorities have adopted the practice of releasing prisoners early so that they do not die in prison.

These actions, it said, are in complete violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), which outline principles and practices for the treatment of prisoners and management of prison facilities and prohibit the use of physical punishments and all forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.

Months before a planned meeting of the Intergovernmental Expert Group on the SMR in January this year to consider proposed changes to SMR, the Chinese government opposed requiring investigations of deaths that occur shortly after a prisoner is released, TCHRD said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

A total of 133 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests in China calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Reported by Tenzin Wangyal and Lhuboom for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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