KATHMANDU—A Tibetan protester who served 13 years in Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi prison has described how he was tortured by Chinese prison guards in an interview with RFA’s Tibetan service.
We were handcuffed, then they would beat us with a rubber tube filled with sand... On average we are continuously detained in solitude for about 28 days to a month at a time.
“I was detained in Drapchi for 12 years,” Sonam Dorje said. “In April 2005, we were moved from there to Chushul. At that time there were about 100 Tibetan political prisoners. Three soldiers for each prisoner escorted us to the new prison in the middle of the night.”
Dorje, 38, who managed to escape to Nepal en route to the exiled home of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, said the use of torture and solitary confinement was commonplace in the prison.
“We were handcuffed, then they would beat us with a rubber tube filled with sand,” he recalled. “On average we are continuously detained in solitude for about 28 days to a month at a time.”
He said the health of most of the prisoners deteriorated quickly as a direct result of the torture sessions and poor diet.
“There was no Tibetan prisoner who did not suffer from kidney disease,” Dorje said. “On a regular basis we were forced to sit on cold concrete floors. So the prisoners were weak and sickly.”
Dorje served a 13-year jail term from June 30, 1992 to June 30, 2005 after taking part in an April 1992 demonstration against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region.
“[When we protested in 1992] it was during a big meeting when we took Tibetan flags and shouted that Tibet is an independent country and that the Chinese should leave.”
“At that time we were immediately detained by local county police. During detention we were severely beaten and tortured,” he added.
He said the main reasons for the protests were the imposition of China’s one-child policy on Tibetans, severe harships faced by local Tibetan farmers due to Chinese policies, severe shortage of jobs under the pressure influx of Han Chinese into the region, and implementation of patriotic reeducation campaigns in the region’s monasteries.
He said one of the five people convicted alongside him, Sonam Rinchen, died in Drapchi under torture.
“When they conducted interrogations, the prisoners would be summoned to the interrogation center. When they didn’t get the answer that they wanted to hear, they tortured us again with a severe beating.”
“Even after the interrogations we would be taken back to our cells where we were tortured once more. They would regularly tie our hands and legs apart and then they would hit us with an electric baton. Most of time they hit us with iron tongs,” he recalled.
“After all this physical torture and mental pain, we could not walk.”
“The conditions in Chinese prisons in Tibet are deplorable,” he said, adding that the torture sessions worsened following his transfer to Chushul prison. “All the food served in jail lacked nutrition. All the vegetables were just boiled in water and served.
Sonam Dorje was originally from Gyama township in Meldrogunkar (Mozhu gongka in Chinese) county, Lhasa prefecture. All five men were from Gyama township in Medrogonkar. They protested during a local meeting organized by the Chinese authorities.
The five were: Sonam Dorje; Thupten Yeshi, who is still in Chushul prison; Lhundup, who is also still in Chushul prison; Kunchok Lodoe, released at an unknown date; and Sonam Rinchen, who died on Sept. 17, 1999 in a military hospital near Sera Monastery in Lhasa.
Dorje now plans to settle in Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, since they fled the region following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Original reporting by RFA Tibetan staff in Asia. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.