Political prisoner numbers disputed

At least 252 Tibetan political prisoners are detained in Chinese jails, more than double the number claimed by Beijing, a Tibetan rights group said yesterday. Official Chinese media said in May only 115 of the 2,300 inmates incarcerated in Tibet were political prisoners, convicted of “espionage, subversion or terrorism”.

However, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy compiled a study which found 252 known Tibetan political prisoners as of June.

It said 129 – including 26 women – were kept in Drapchi Prison, recognised as the harshest prison in Tibet.

The prisoners have been charged with endangering state security, which involves political activities such as pro-independence demonstrations and poster-pasting, or for possessing photos and videos of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

“The denial of basic human rights is apparent from the reasons for arrest and the inhuman treatment meted out to them while in detention and during imprisonment,” the centre said.

It said prisoners were subjected to severe beatings.

Since 1987, 27 prisoners had died in Drapchi Prison and 47 political prisoners’ sentences had been increased for non-conformity or disobedience, the centre said.

There had also been 21 protests within the prison.

The largest and most violently suppressed protest occurred in May 1998 and resulted in the deaths of eight political prisoners and longer sentences for many more, the centre said. “The only recourse that the prisoners can take to vent their pent-up feeling is through protest and demonstration,” said Lobsang Nyandak Zayul, the centre’s executive director. No one knows the exact number of Tibetan political prisoners jailed by China, as the information is not revealed by the Chinese Government.

London-based Amnesty International estimates there are hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns in Tibet’s jails for political reasons.