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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

HRW Report: "I Saw It with My Own Eyes"

September 15, 2010

Abuses by Chinese Security Forces in Tibet, 2008-2010
Human Rights Watch
July 21, 2010

Map: Tibetan Autonomous Areas within the People’s Republic of China

I. Summary
Key Recommendations

II. Methodology

III. Background
Tibetans in China
Statutory Restrictions on Assembly and Procession
Forced Confessions: A Nationwide Problem
Failure to Protect Peaceful Advocacy for Autonomy or Independence

IV. Disproportionate Use of Force
Case 1. The Lhasa Unrest, March 10-15
China’s Security Forces in Tibet
Tibetans Sentenced for Reporting the Situation in Lhasa
Case 2: Shooting in Aba [Tib. Ngaba], March 16, 2008
Arrests and Detention in Tongren [Tib. Rebgong], Qinghai Province, March 16
Case 3: Shooting in Donggu [Tongkor monastery], April 4, 2008
Case 4: Other Shootings in Ganzi [Tib. Kardze] Prefecture

V. Brutalization and Mistreatment of Detainees
Arrests and Detention
Sweeps and Raids on Monasteries
"I saw it with my own eyes" "People’s Armed Police Brutality in Lhasa
Official Measures for Dealing Strictly with
Rebellious Monasteries in Ganzi [Tib. Kardze]
Abuses in Detention
Torture to Gain Information and Confessions

VI. Disappearances and Politicized Prosecutions
Prosecutions in the Tibet Autonomous Region
Arrests and Prosecutions in Gansu and Sichuan Provinces
Doubts Over ‘Voluntary Surrenders’
Systemic Lack of Due Process in Judicial Proceedings
Convictions of Tibetan Protesters in Ganzi [Tib. Kardze]

VII. International Standards
Use of Force in Police Operations
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and
Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials
Right to Peaceful Assembly and Expression
Arbitrary Deprivation of Liberty and Enforced Disappearances
Torture and Ill-Treatment

VIII. Detailed Recommendations
To the Chinese Government
To the United Nations
To the International Community and China’s
International Partners, in particular the US
government, the European Union, India, UK, France and Germany

X. Acknowledgements

XI. Appendix: Tibetan Autonomous Areas of China (Official Transcription)

I. Summary

More than two years after protests -- the largest
and most sustained in decades -- erupted across
the Tibetan plateau in March 2008, the Chinese government has yet to explain

the circumstances that led to dozens of clashes
between protesters and police. It has not
addressed how its security forces responded to
the unrest -- including allegedly using lethal
force against Tibetan protesters, and abandoning
Lhasa’s city-center to protesters and looters for
several hours on March 14. Nor has it revealed
the fate of hundreds of Tibetans arrested during
the protests, or disclosed how many it has
detained, sentenced, still holds pending trial,
or has sentenced to extrajudicial forms of
detention, such as Re-education Through Labor (RTL).

This report, the first comprehensive examination
of the crackdown, is based solely on official
Chinese sources and eyewitness accounts that
Human Rights Watch gathered in more than 200
interviews with Tibetans between March 2008 and
April 2010. It finds that the scale of human
rights violations related to suppressing the
protests was far greater than previously
believed, and that Chinese forces broke
international law—including prohibitions against
disproportionate use of force, torture and
arbitrary detention, as well as the right to
peaceful assembly -- despite government claims to
the contrary. It also reveals that violations
continue, including disappearances, wrongful
convictions and imprisonment, persecution of
families, and the targeting people suspected of
sympathizing with the protest movement.

Such tactics are unlikely to resolve, and may
even aggravate, the longstanding grievances that
prompted the protests in the first place,
undermining prospects for long-term stability in
the region. China urgently needs to investigate
the protests and their aftermath, and open the
region to media and international monitors. It
also needs to examine the conduct of its security
forces, which eyewitnesses consistently say used
disproportionate force; deliberately brutalized
and mistreated Tibetans detained for suspected
involvement in the unrest; and deprived detainees
of minimum guarantees of due process of law,
including formal notification of where, or why, they were held.

China has rejected an independent inquiry into
the March 2008 protests and their causes, and has
made serious efforts to conceal details of its
related security operations. It maintains a heavy
security presence in the region, including
intense police surveillance, and severely limits
domestic and cross-border movement by Tibetans.
It also dramatically curtails communication
between Tibetans and the rest of the country:
those caught trying to pass information about
China’s suppression of the protests have been
treated as state security offenders and received
sentences of up to life in jail.

China has also barred foreigners -- including
many media organizations -- from freely traveling
in the region, further preventing investigation
into allegations of brutality and abuse. Over the
past two-and-a-half years, the government has
allowed only a handful of tightly-scripted tours
for select foreign media and diplomatic
delegations. China has refused to admit UN human
rights rapporteurs and -- with some rare
exceptions—foreign diplomats and, despite a long
history of abuses in its detention system,
continues to block the International Committee of
the Red Cross from visiting its prisons, arguing
the government-controlled Chinese Red Cross
fulfills this mission. There are no known public
Chinese official reports about prison conditions in Tibet.

The commander of the paramilitary People’s Armed
Police (PAP) has maintained that security forces
acted legally-- and that "none of the means --
adopted there have exceeded the constitutional
rights of the armed forces or international law”
-- while the Chinese government also insists its
forces adhered to international practice when
dealing with the protests, exercising "extreme restraint" as they did so.

This characterization seems to be accurate in a
few cases when security forces apparently exerted
control when they faced large gatherings of
Tibetan residents or monks. At times, such groups
posed genuine threats to public order, especially
in Lhasa on March 14 and in several incidents
where protestors targeted official buildings,
police stations, vehicles, and Chinese-owned
shops. But in most cases there is just too little
information about the precise sequence of events
to know if protestors became violent only after
the police cracked down on peaceful protests or
before the security forces intervened. Official
accounts and media reports compiled by Human
Rights Watch acknowledge specific protests in at
least 18 county-level areas in the Tibet
Autonomous Region, and Qinghai, Gansu, and
Sichuan provinces over two weeks. China’s Xinhua
state news agency acknowledges more than 150
incidents between March 10 and March 25. In Lhasa
alone, 21 people were killed and several hundred
injured during the March 14-15 time period according to government figures.

The Chinese government has a duty to provide
public order, thoroughly investigate incidents of
violence, and punish perpetrators. But it must do
so according to international law, and is
obligated to respect basic human rights standards
governing the use of force even when dispersing
public protests—universal standards laid out in
the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of
Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

At least two factors complicated the task of
maintaining public order for China’s security
forces. One is China’s prohibition of all forms
of religious or political protests, even if they
are peaceful. This meant local authorities could
not be flexible in accommodating peaceful
assembly and procession, and all gatherings were
immediately treated as severe disruptions to
social order that had to be suppressed as rapidly as possible.

The second factor is the government’s immediate
characterization of the unrest as a conspiracy
orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, or (later) by
what it refers to as the Dalai "clique," which
threatened the territorial integrity of the
People’s Republic of China and warranted a
“people’s war” and “life and death struggle."
This instantly raised the stakes, although the
Chinese government has not factually
substantiated its assertions. Instead, most of
its “evidence” regarding such alleged subversion
is drawn from the public positions of Tibetan
exile organizations and other pro-Tibet groups,
which have sought to mobilize popular opinion to
end Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, or win
Tibetans substantial political autonomy. Such
statements and activities are protected under
international human rights law, even though
Chinese domestic law considers them to be a crime against state security.

Similarly, while the government has attributed
the protests to an alleged conspiracy by "hostile
foreign forces" it has failed to provide evidence
that would cast doubt on the most straightforward
explanation for the protests: That Tibetans aimed
to express their opposition to Chinese policies
that place them at a socio-economic disadvantage,
and threaten the survival of their distinctive culture and way of life.

Key Recommendations

To the Government of the People’s Republic of China:

* Release all Tibetan detainees who have not been
charged, or who have been detained for exercising
their right to peaceful expression.

* Release accurate information about all people
detained, released, and formally arrested
following protests across the Tibetan plateau,
including both the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
and the Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and
Counties under the jurisdiction of Qinghai,
Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.

* Release accurate information about all people
killed or injured by security forces.

* Give international monitors, including the
International Committee of the Red Cross, access
to prisons and places of detentions where Tibetans are held.

* Hold accountable, in a manner consistent with
international human rights law, those responsible
for using excessive force against unarmed
protesters. Support and cooperate with an
independent investigation into their actions.

To the United Nations and Foreign Governments:

* Urge the Chinese government to: account for
every person detained in connection with the
protests; vigorously investigate incidents where
security forces used lethal or disproportionate
force; put an end to the practice of
“disappearances” and unlawful detentions; and
discipline or prosecute the perpetrators of abuses.

* Provide full and active support for an
investigation into the Tibetan protests carried
out under the auspices of the United Nations
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

* Urge the Chinese government to review the
official policies and practices that contributed to unrest in Tibetan areas.

More detailed recommendations, as well as more
immediate steps the Chinese government and the
international community can take, appear at the end of this report.

II. Methodology

China does not allow independent, impartial
organizations to freely conduct research or
monitor human rights concerns inside Tibetan
areas. As a result, obtaining and verifying
credible information presents great challenges.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 203 Tibetan
refugees and temporary visitors outside China
between March 2008 and April 2010. The interviews
were conducted by speakers of all three Tibetan
regional languages, transcribed, and then translated into English.

The interviews were conducted as soon as possible
after the interviewees had left Tibetan areas of
People’s Republic of China. In some cases they
had already traveled for several weeks.
Interviewers used open interviews, in which
interviewees were not immediately prompted about
whether they had witnessed or experienced abuses
but were instead asked to recount their
experiences during the protests and their motives for leaving China.

All interviews were extensively checked for
consistency and factual accuracy. Except where
stated, information from interviews has been used
only where it could be corroborated by other
interviews or secondary sources, including
official Chinese media and government reports.
Human Rights Watch believes that the abuses
documented here are indicative of larger problems
in the areas covered by this report.

To protect their identities, the names of the
interviewees have been changed, and the location
where they were interviewed has been withheld.
However, the interviewee’s place of origin is indicated when possible.

With the exception of Lhasa, the report refers to
all place names according to their transcription
in Pinyin (Standard Mandarin Romanization),
except when quoting directly from interview
material, in which case the original appellation
given by the interviewee is maintained. In both
cases the name is followed by the transcription
in the alternate language between brackets, with
respectively “Tib.” for Tibetan and "Ch. for
Chinese, the first time the name appears.
Example: Aba [Tib. Ngaba]; Kardze [Ch. Ganzi].

Human Rights Watch takes no position regarding
the political status of Tibet. The report uses
the term "Tibet" to refer to the Tibetan
Autonomous Region (TAR) of the PRC and “Tibetan
areas” to refer to all officially designated
Tibetan areas and areas where the Tibetan
population is the largest ethnic group.

No incentives were offered or provided to persons
interviewed, and verbal consent was

received from all interview subjects. All
participants were informed of the purpose of the

interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways the
data would be collected and used.

III. Background

Tibetans living under Chinese rule have a long
and documented history of unaddressed grievances.
The Chinese government refuses to recognize the
validity of virtually all criticisms leveled
against state policies in Tibetan areas, and
continues to frame all discussions about Tibet as
a sovereignty issue, claiming that the country's
territorial integrity and inter-ethnic relations
are threatened by a secessionist movement
supported by "hostile foreign forces."

The Chinese authorities have also consistently
rejected all allegations of human rights abuses
in Tibetan areas, claiming they are conspiracies
to fan ethnic dissatisfaction against the
Communist Party and the government. Authorities
stress that Tibetans' rights are fully protected
under the law, and point to political, social,
and economic development over the past
half-century as signs that the human rights of
ethnic Tibetans are fully protected.

Despite this long history of grievances,
large-scale political unrest involving thousands
of Tibetan protestors have been rare in the
post-Mao era. The largest, which occurred in
Lhasa in 1987-89, were brutally suppressed by the
government. In March 1989, the government imposed
martial law and arrested thousands of Tibetans
suspected of participating in protests, or
harboring pro-independence views.[1] This unrest
was nonetheless followed in 1993 by a string of
protests over economic issues, and the spread of
political protest to the countryside.[2]

In 1994, at a meeting called the Third National
Forum on Work in Tibet, central Chinese leaders
agreed on a program of accelerated economic
development, and approved a policy that further
curtailed the civil, political and cultural
rights of Tibetans. They also introduced new
restrictions on religious activities and monastic
life. Efforts to curtail the Dalai Lama's
political and religious influence intensified,
and a "patriotic education campaign" in Tibetan schools and monasteries began.

Tibetans in China

Some 5.7 million officially recognized ethnic
Tibetans live in China. About 2.6 million live in
the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which occupies
the Western half of the distinctive geographic
area known as the Tibetan plateau.

Most of the other 3 million Tibetans live in the
eastern part of the plateau, in officially
designated "Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and
Counties” under the jurisdiction of the four
provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan.

Tibetans generally divide the plateau into
U-Tsang (roughly the area under the jurisdiction
of the TAR), Amdo (the north-eastern part of the
plateau), and Kham (the south-eastern part of the plateau).

Taken together, the new policies appeared
intended to eradicate the widespread popular
opposition to government policies and encourage
migration of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibetan
areas.[3] In 1999, the government integrated the
economic development of Tibetan areas into the
larger national "Western Development drive" (Xibu
da kaifa), which led to accelerated exploitation
of natural resources and a rapid influx of new
ethnic Chinese settlers and migrant workers into
the region. In 2005, the Qinghai-Tibet railway to
Lhasa was completed, further accelerating this
trend. A massive campaign to settle Tibetan
herders and forcibly relocate and re-house up to
80 percent of the Tibetan rural population was
initiated in the mid-2000s.[4] Economic
marginalization of Tibetans, who feared they were
becoming strangers in their own land, increased
social tensions. The government labeled any
criticism of state policies an attempt to
encourage “separatist sentiment,” and denied such
dissent a public outlet. In fact, the first ever
independent Chinese report published in 2009 by a
non-governmental legal aid group in Beijing into
the causes of the Tibetan protests specifically
cited the inability of Tibetans to lawfully raise
socio-economic grievances as a root cause of
unrest in Tibetan areas the previous year.[5]

Severe, long-standing human rights violations by
the Chinese state against Tibetans remain
undeniable, irrespective of disputes over the
political status of Tibet and the real or
imagined motives of the different parties. Sharp
statutory restrictions on basic rights and
freedoms, religious persecution against the
clergy and laity, socio-economic and political
discrimination, political prosecutions and
torture, and mistreatment of prisoners have all
been authoritatively documented over the years,
including by inter-governmental bodies such as the United Nations.

In a report issued in December 2008, the UN
Committee against Torture referred to
"longstanding reports of torture, beatings,
shackling and other abusive treatment” of
Tibetans and expressed “great concern [about] the
reports received on the recent crackdown in the
Tibetan Autonomous Region and neighboring Tibetan
prefectures and counties in the party, which has
deepened a climate of fear and further inhibits accountability:"

These reports follow longstanding reports of
torture, beatings, shackling and other abusive
treatment, in particular of Tibetan monks and
nuns, at the hands of public officials, public
security and security, as well as paramilitary
and even unofficial personnel at the instigation
or with the acquiescence or consent of public
officials. Notwithstanding the numbers provided
by the party on persons arrested and those
sentenced to imprisonment in the aftermath of the
March 2008 events in the Tibetan Autonomous
Region and neighboring Tibetan prefectures and
counties, the Committee regrets the lack of
further information on these persons.[6]

Statutory Restrictions on Assembly and Procession

The applicable regulations for legally
demonstrating in China are contained in the 1989
Law on Assembly, Procession, and Demonstration,
and the 1992 implementing regulations. Through a
series of restrictive and ambiguous requirements,
the law effectively denies Chinese citizens the
right to assembly and demonstration as defined under international law:

* Article 7 makes illegal all demonstrations that
are not specifically authorized by the Public
Security Bureau, which has wide discretion and is
statutorily entitled to apply political and
ideological standards when reviewing the application.

* Article 15 states that citizens who are not
locally registered residents may not "start,
organize or participate in an assembly, a
procession or a demonstration of local citizens.”

* Article 12 effectively bars demonstrations that
protest the government’s ethnic policies or
oppose the Communist Party. The article provides that:

"[n]o permission shall be granted for an
application for an assembly, a procession or a
demonstration that involves one of the following circumstances:

(1) Opposition to the cardinal principles
specified in the Constitution which prohibits
deviation from "Marxist ideology, Communist Party
of China rule, people's dictatorship and adherence to the Socialist road.”

(2) Harming the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state.

(3) Instigation of division among the nationalities.

(4) The belief, based on sufficient evidence,
that the holding of the assembly, procession or
demonstration that is being applied for will
directly endanger public security or seriously undermine public order.”

The 1992 implementing regulations introduce
further administrative requirements for obtaining
approval from the law enforcement agencies. In
the past 30 years, no Tibetan demonstration has
ever been recorded as receiving official approval.

Source: Law of the People's Republic of China on
Assemblies, Processions and Demonstrations,
Adopted at the Tenth Meeting of the Standing
Committee of the Seventh National People's Congress, October 31, 1989.

Forced Confessions: A Nationwide Problem

The Chinese government has in the past recognized
"forced confession" (xingxun bigong) to be a
nationwide problem. Criminal suspects in China do
not have the right to remain silent to avoid
self-incrimination. A 2003 investigation by the
Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP, the State
prosecution) uncovered official abuses, including
torture, which had resulted in 460 deaths and
serious injuries to 117 people throughout China.[7]

The president of the SPC, Jia Chunwang, reported
in March 2006 that 930 officials had been
investigated for torturing detainees that year,
adding the issue “had not been effectively
scrutinized and addressed.”[8] In May 2010, the
government announced the introduction of new
regulation specifying how court evidence obtained
under torture could be dismissed. However, the
Chinese government has consistently refused to
acknowledge even the possibility of any violation
having taken place in Tibet, rejecting such allegations as "politicized."[9]

In June 2010, detailed allegations of torture
emerged in the case of Karma Samdrup, a prominent
Tibetan philanthropist who was tried in what
appeared to be a politically-motivated
prosecution. In a statement delivered in court,
Samdrup alleged that officers repeatedly beat him
during several months of interrogation, ordered
fellow detainees to also hit him, deprived him of
sleep for days on end, and drugged him with a
substance that made his eyes and ears bleed—all
to extract a confession. His lawyer also
contended that several depositions from
prosecution witnesses were also coerced. The
court refused to exclude the tainted evidence and
sentenced Karma Samdrup to 15 years’ imprisonment on June 25, 2010.[10]

Other UN bodies that have raised concerns about
the situation of Tibetans include the United
Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination, which recommended that China
“carefully consider the root cause” of the
incidents in Tibet and Xinjiang, "including
inter-ethnic violence, and the reasons why the
situation escalated"[11]; the Committee on the
Right of the Child; the Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; the
Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of
Discrimination; the Working Group on Arbitrary
Detention; the Working Group on Enforced or
Involuntary Disappearances; the Special
Representative of the Secretary-General on the
situation of human rights defenders; and the
United Nations special rapporteurs on,
respectively, freedom of religion or belief, the
Right to Education, and on the Promotion and
Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.[12]

As of today, the number of people arrested,
detained, prosecuted and sentenced in relation to
the March 2008 protests remains unknown. By the
Chinese government's own count, there have been
thousands of arrests, and more than 100 trials
pushed through the judicial system. Chinese
courts in Lhasa have sentenced about 30 Tibetans,
of whom two were executed in October 2009 after
being accused of causing the death of several
people by setting fire to shops where they were
hiding. At least 27 Tibetans were sentenced in
Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu
province, where the largest number of protests
was recorded. However, the charges and the trials
were so highly politicized that it is impossible
to distinguish which cases were justified and which were arbitrary.

Failure to Protect Peaceful Advocacy for Autonomy or Independence

Chinese law does not allow for any form of
peaceful advocacy of independence, autonomy or
self-determination. Article 103 of the Criminal
Law sets forth the crime of “inciting separatism
and harming national unity,” which is overtly
interpreted by the authorities as precluding any
written or oral advocacy of self-determination,
including, in the case of Tibet, calls for the
return of the Dalai Lama, and displaying the Tibetan flag.

Article 103(1) allows penalties of up to life
imprisonment or even death for the crime of
"organizing, scheming and carrying out activities
to split the nation and sabotage national unity.”
Article 103(2) permits sentences of over five
years, thus up to the statutory maximum of
fifteen years for sentences of "fixed term
imprisonment," for "ringleaders" in acts of
"incitement to split the nation and sabotage national unity."

Several other cases involved people who had
passed information about the situation in the
region to interlocutors abroad. One was a
renowned mountain guide, Gonpo Tserang (Ch.
Gongbao Cairang), who was sentenced to three
years in prison on state secrets charges for
sending text messages that the government said
"distorted the facts and true situation regarding
social stability in the Tibetan area following
the March 14 incident."” An HIV/Aids NGO worker,
Wangdu (Ch. Wang Dui), was sentenced to life in
prison for communicating with Tibetans in exile.
Many other cases have been reported but not confirmed.

IV. Disproportionate Use of Force

None of the means -- adopted there have exceeded
the constitutional rights of the armed forces or
international law. -- Wu Shuangzhan, Commander of
the People’s Armed Police, March 16, 2008.

They were firing straight at people. They were
coming from the direction of Jiangsu Lu firing at
any Tibetans they saw, and many people had been
killed. -- Pema Lhakyi, a 24-year -old Lhasa resident.

Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch
described circumstances that suggest Chinese
security forces used disproportionate force to
suppress protesters on many occasions.

Some protests clearly devolved into violence, or
had the potential to do so. But international
legal standards limit the use of force by states
to that which is strictly necessary in order to
protect life or to apprehend perpetrators of violent crimes.

Governments are also obligated when dispersing
violent protests to respect basic human rights
standards governing the use of force. As cited
above, the United Nations Basic Principles on the
Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement
Officials mandate that "Whenever the lawful use
of force -- is unavoidable, law enforcement
officials shall -- exercise restraint in such use
and act in proportion to the seriousness of the
offense.The legitimate objective should be
achieved with minimal damage and injury, and
preservation of human life respected.”[13] (See
below Section V: International Standards.)

The security forces’ most extreme response
included opening fire indiscriminately on
demonstrators. Substantial evidence, detailed
below, indicates that protesters died in at least
three such incidents, and unconfirmed reports
cite many more incidents that resulted in
casualties. The Chinese government has to date
acknowledged only one incident that resulted in the death of protesters.

In several protests, witnesses describe security
forces deliberately hitting and kicking
protesters with batons and rifle butts;
systematically punching and kicking subdued
protesters as they were arrested or taken away;
and beating individual protesters until they
remained motionless on the ground. Witnesses to
several different incidents reported seeing
security forces load inanimate bodies on trucks.
These scenes were probably the basis for
persistent rumors in Lhasa that security forces
had systematically removed Tibetan casualties in
order to conceal the use of lethal force on March
14 and 15. According to the Chinese government’s
own statistics, security forces have also
detained thousands of suspected protesters, monks
and nuns, several hundred of whom remain unaccounted for.

The Chinese government has insisted that its
response to the protests was consistent with
international practice. On March 18, 2008, less
than a week after the Lhasa riots, a Foreign
Ministry spokesman said the demonstrations had
"violated the UN Charter and fundamental norms
governing international relations," and that "not
a single responsible government will remain
silent or sit back when those violent activities
of beating, smashing, robbing and burning take
place.”[14] The expression "smashing, looting,
beating and burning" (da za qiang rao), which
derives from the denunciation of the Red Guards
during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), is
highly ideological and permeates all official
accounts of the protests, irrespective of whether
they were violent, that took place in Lhasa, or
occurred before or after March 14.

Case 1. The Lhasa Unrest, March 10-15

Brutality Against Monks from Sera and Drepung on March 10-13

The sequence of events that led to the violence
in Lhasa on March 14 remains unclear and highly
disputed.[15] However, eyewitnesses accounts
presented below provide some evidence that
security agencies used disproportionately lethal
force against civilians in at least one sector of Lhasa.

The genesis of the protests on March 14-15 is
also firmly established, since authorities had
not yet locked down the region and expelled all
foreign visitors and journalists. On March 10,
11, and 12, Tibetan monks from monasteries around
Lhasa led a string of small-scale protests that
led to a sudden breakdown of public order in
Lhasa itself on March 14. After state media
broadcast accounts of the disturbances, and news
of the unrest spread through the Tibetan
community, the protests spiraled into the most
extensive episode of regional unrest witnessed in five decades.

China’s Security Forces in Tibet

Security forces from four different agencies were
deployed to quell the protests in
Tibetan-inhabited areas. Those agencies include:

* The People’s Armed Police (PAP), a paramilitary
force whose chief role is to "safeguard domestic
security" and maintain public order. PAP forces
have been the primary force in charge of
suppressing protests and controlling roads,
government facilities, and monasteries. PAP
forces have organization and rank structures
similar to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),
and are under the dual authority of the public
security and the military. They wear uniforms
similar to those of the PLA, with whom they are often confused.

* The Public Security Bureau (PSB), the main
police authority in China, with responsibilities
for day-to-day law enforcement. The PSB’s
responsibilities include the “prevention,
suppression and investigations of criminal
activities; maintenance of social security and
order; fight against behaviors jeopardizing
social order; administration of [the] household
registration [system], identification cards,
exit-and-entry, stay and travel of foreigners in
China; maintenance of border security; management
of gatherings, parades and demonstrations..."

* The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the armed
forces of the People’s Republic of China. The
government denies that the PLA played a direct
role in quelling Tibetan protests in 2008, but
acknowledges that it "assisted" the security operations.

* The People’s Militia, a mixed
professional-civilian institution whose mission
is to assist in maintaining public order. It is
under the command of military organs, the PLA and
the Party’s Central Military Commission.

Adapted from Dennis J. Blasko, The Chinese Army
Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st
Century, (London: Routledge, 2006), pp.18-19.

The government has not acknowledged the scale of
the protests. The most authoritative statement
remains an article by China’s Xinhua state news
agency, which reported on April 2, 2008, that
over 150 incidents had taken place between March
10 and March 25 in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai,
Gansu, and Sichuan provinces, and the Tibet
Autonomous Region.[16] Official accounts and
media reports compiled by Human Rights Watch
acknowledge specific protests in at least 18
county-level areas situated in the prefectures of
Changdu [Tibetan: Chamdo], Aba [Tib. Ngaba],
Ganzi [Tib. Kardze], Gannan [Tib. Ganlho] and
Guoluo [Tib. Golog] in the Tibet Autonomous
Region, and Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces.[17]

Eyewitnesses reported that police brutality began
with the first incident on March 10, and said
that this triggered the subsequent protests. At
around 5 p.m. a group of monks from the Sera
monastery began a small-scale protest in front of
central Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple [Ch. Dazhaosi].
Police broke up the protest, hitting protesters
with batons and arresting every member of the
group. According to Ngawang Richen, a 26-year-old
resident originally from Ganzi who witnessed the scene:

There were around 10 monks and 20 to 30 ordinary
people, and they shouted slogans. Within minutes,
many police arrived and started arresting all of
them. A monk began bleeding from the head but the
police kept hitting them with electrical batons. I fainted at that point.[18]

At least one official report, published on March
25, confirms that an incident took place in front
of the Jokhang Temple that day. According to this
report, police arrested 15 monks for
participating in “a disturbance" in which the
monks "shouted reactionary slogans and brandished
the [Tibetan] Snow Lion flag."[19] The report
identified a monk whose Chinese name is Luozhui
(probably Lodrup or Lodrul in Tibetan) as the
“ringleader” of the protest.[20] Thirteen of the
fifteen monks arrested were later prosecuted.
Their whereabouts remain unknown. There are no
suggestions—either according to eyewitnesses or
the official account -- that these protestors were violent.

Witnesses described another incident that day
when police did not use disproportionate force
but blocked and arrested demonstrators in order
to enforce the ban on religious demonstrations.
Around midday on March 10, 300 to 400 monks from
Drepung monastery started a peaceful march toward
the city center to press for greater religious
freedom. According to eyewitness accounts armed
security forces quickly arrived and blocked
protesters, leading to a stand-off with monks who
sat in the road for several hours. Although the
authorities said that the monks "were later
persuaded to leave in peace” and that “no
disturbance to social stability was caused,"
witnesses recounted that monks who initially
tried to go through the police lines were thrown
to the ground, kicked, and taken away.[21] Up to
60 monks were arrested during the day.

The next day, March 11, several hundred monks
from Sera monastery attempted to stage a protest
to demand the release of the monks arrested the
day before. Around 3 p.m., the monks started to
leave the monastery compound and assemble
outside, shouting slogans as they went.
Plain-clothes and uniformed security personnel
stationed in the monastery tried to prevent them
from leaving by physically obstructing the monks,
and then kicking and punching them as they tried
to pass through the doors. A traveler who witnessed the scene told the BBC:

There were four or five [policemen] in uniform
and another 10 or 15 in regular clothing. They
were grabbing monks, kicking and beating them.
One monk was kicked in the stomach right in front
of us and then beaten on the ground. The monks
were not attacking the soldiers, there was no
melee. They were heading out in a stream, it was
a very clear path, and the police were attacking them at the sides.[22]

Police stopped the demonstrating monks a few
hundred meters from the monastery, and the monks
staged a sit-down. “The monks were sitting in
neat rows on the ground, surrounded by a phalanx
of police,” the witness told the BBC.[23] Several
hours later, armed reinforcements arrived and
police moved in to end the protest. According to
a witness interviewed by Radio Free Asia Tibetan’s service:

There were probably a couple of thousand armed
police, Public Security personnel, wearing
different uniforms. Police fired tear gas into the crowd.[24]

At around 9:30 p.m., the monks were forced to return to their monastery.

Similar incidents took place the next day in
Ganden monastery and Chubsang nunnery, West of
Lhasa, when hundreds of monks and nuns tried to
march to Lhasa to protest the security presence.
Police surrounded them, forced them back into
their respective monastery or nunnery, and sealed
off the area, according to accounts later
provided by some participants. There are no known
official reports of these incidents.

Ethnic Violence and Shootings of Protesters, March 14-15

Tensions came to a head on March 14. Around 11
a.m., a group of monks at Ramoche, a small temple
in the heart of Lhasa, gathered inside their
compound ahead of an intended march to protest
the previous days’ detention of monks from Sera
and Drepung monasteries. Police stopped them at
the door of the compound, and, following a minor
confrontation in which both sides pushed and
shoved each other, barred the monks from leaving.
Tibetans watching from neighboring buildings
could see the commotion, and people began to
congregate outside the compound. A few bystanders
began attacking police and their vehicles,
quickly outnumbering a small reinforcement of
riot police who could not disperse them.

Amateur footage of the incident that local
residents and tourists shot shows members of the
public throwing stones at police and overturning
their vehicles. Riot police withdrew to a nearby
street, where protestors continued to pelt them
with stones from a distance. Security forces
ultimately withdrew from the area. Despite
massive reinforcements on the outskirts of Lhasa,
they abandoned the city center to protesters for
the rest of the day. The ranks of Tibetan
protesters swelled, and some small groups started
to attack Chinese shops situated in downtown
Lhasa and the Barkor area, near the Jokhang
Temple. Rioters set some thousand Chinese-owned
shops on fire, and attacked passers-by who they
suspected to be Chinese. According to The
Economist's correspondent James Miles, one of
only two accredited foreign journalists in Lhasa at the time:

Almost every [Chinese or Chinese Muslim] business
was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed
into, the property therein hauled out into the
streets, piled up, burned. It was an
extraordinary outpouring of ethnic violence of a
most unpleasant nature to watch, which surprised some Tibetans watching it.[25]

Five Chinese civilians and a Tibetan burned to
death after rioters set ablaze the shops in which
they were hiding, and a policeman and six other
civilians died from beatings or unknown causes,
according to the Chinese government.[26] Five
more Chinese civilians died from being trapped in
a burning shop in a separate protest in the
nearby town of Dechen the following day. The
Chinese government accounts treat the incidents as all being “the Lhasa riot.”

After several hours, security forces moved in to
establish a cordon around the downtown area, but
again stood back for several hours and during
this period did not try to stop small groups of
protesters from looting, and setting fire to
buildings, vehicles and Chinese goods seized from ransacked shops.[27]

The Chinese authorities have given conflicting
messages about whether security forces used live
ammunition. At a March 17 press conference in
Beijing, TAR Government Chairman Qiangba Puncog
denied that security forces were even carrying guns:

Our public security officers and armed policemen
showed great restraint and performed their duty
in accordance with the law and in a civilized
manner. None of them carried or used any lethal weapon in the process.[28]

Yet pictures and footage broadcast by state media
showed large numbers of fully-armed troops on
March 14, and Xinhua state news agency
acknowledged that police had fired “warning
shots,” even though they “had been ordered not to
use force against the attacker."[29]

Testimonies from participants and witnesses
challenge this version. Several witnesses told
Human Rights Watch that security forces used
lethal force to disperse demonstrators on
separate occasions, including one incident in
southern Lhasa, at the entrance to the south
Barkor on Jiangsu road, known in Tibetan as the
Southern Lingkor Road. The situation in this area
remains unclear, but according to the Chinese
government, Tibetan protestors had been engaged
in looting, arson, and violence against Chinese-looking civilians.

One Tibetan protester, Pema Lhakyi, who was near
the Barkor Square told Human Rights Watch that
troops had shot protestors as they moved into
position around downtown Lhasa on March 14. She said:

The soldiers did not come until afternoon that
day. We could shout and protest as much as we
wanted. It felt good. When the soldiers showed up
later, they threw tear gas. A gas canister hit my
leg and I couldn’t walk any more. Then there was
indiscriminate shooting and we saw two people
shot dead in front of us. One died in the doorway
of the Mentsikhang (the outpatient department of
the Tibetan hospital). The bullet hit him on the
right side in the kidney area. We banged so hard
on the door of the Mentsikhang. That day the
hospitals had been ordered not to help anyone.
The other died in the doorway of the Pudap Dzong
restaurant. Both of those killed were young men
of about 25-26. Their clothes were soaked in blood.[30]

Lhakyi also recounted that other protesters had
told her the police had also fired on protestors
as they moved to take a position south of the downtown area:

They were firing straight at people. They were
coming from the direction of Jiangsu Lu firing at
any Tibetans they saw, and many people had been killed.[31]

According to another Lhasa resident, who witnessed the same events on March 14:

I did not personally see anyone get killed, but
my friend saw 12 people killed near the gate of
Rigsum Gonpo Temple in the south of the old city
on the afternoon of March 14.[32] It is very
dangerous to tell the name of my friend because she is still in Tibet.[33]

Information received by Human Rights Watch
indicates that one fatality that afternoon was a
21-year-old man, Lhakpa Tsering. He reportedly
stepped out of his family’s courtyard house with
another man to view the situation, which appeared
calmer. According to residents from the same compound:

All of a sudden a Chinese police vehicle rushed
down the road. They were shooting from the
vehicle and he was struck by a bullet as he stood
against the wall. His companion dragged him
inside a neighboring house, but he died almost immediately.[34]

Police showed up shortly afterwards, and took
away the body despite the parents’ opposition.
One Tibetan policeman reportedly told the family
that the military and police would take Lhakpa’s
body by force if they did not hand it over voluntarily.[35]

Other reports suggest that several injured
Tibetans were taken to the hospital on East
Beijing road. One Lhasa resident told Radio Free
Asia’s Tibetan language service:

My sister told me that she had seen nine bodies
in the area of Luphuk [ed.’s note: just north of
Jiangsu road, in the southern part of the Tibetan
quarter]. I myself saw a Tibetan woman and a man
lying dead in Ani Tsamkung clinic, north of the
Southern Lingkor, very close to Rigsum Gonpo
Temple. When I arrived at the Lhasa City People’s
Hospital, I saw three Tibetans brought in. One
was Tenzin Norbu from Pelbar county (Changdu
prefecture of the TAR)". He had been shot in the
head, and the hospital suggested he go to the TAR
People’s Hospital. He was vomiting and may not
have survived. He was very young—about 21 or 22
-- and according to his sister was a student in a
school just below Sera monastery. Another youth
was also shot in the head. He was bleeding
heavily, and there was little hope for his
survival. Another Tibetan youth had been hit in
the hip and had about four bullet wounds.[36]

Concealment of Hospital Reports

All efforts by human rights organizations and
international media to interview hospital
personnel in the weeks and months following the
unrest were unsuccessful, making it impossible to
confirm eyewitness accounts. Hospital authorities
and security forces warned Tibetan doctors and
medical personnel that they risked arrest if they
passed information about patients and casualties to outsiders.

There are two known cases of Tibetans arrested
for disregarding these instructions. On November
7, 2008, the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court
sentenced a retired doctor, Yeshe Choedron [Ch.
Yixi Quzhen], to 15 years imprisonment on
"espionage" charges for having passed
"intelligence and information endangering
national security" related to the crackdown to
the Tibetan government in exile (See box
"Tibetans sentenced for reporting the situation in Lhasa").[37]

Human Rights Watch also received one unconfirmed
report about the arrest in early May 2008 of a
retired Tibetan doctor who had worked at Lhasa
People’s Hospital and her husband. According to
the report, local police and security forces took
Dr. Yangdzom, 50, and her husband, Shilog, 62,
from their home on suspicion that she used
hospital medicines to treat injured Tibetan
protestors in hiding. Authorities also accused
Shilog of aiding protestors at a hospital.
Security officials took Shilog to Lhasa PSB
Detention Center. Their whereabouts are still unknown.[38]

Brutality and Disappearances During the "Search and Arrest" Period

During the night of March 14-15, security forces
progressively regained control of the entire
city, carrying out a massive search and arrest
campaign by conducting door-to-door checks and
detaining large numbers of Tibetans. The Lhasa
authorities warned people against sheltering
protesters, and called for protesters to turn
themselves in before midnight, stating, “Those
who surrender and provide information on other
lawbreakers will be exempt from punishment, those
who cover up or shelter the lawbreakers would be
punished in accordance with the law.”[39] All
residents were instructed to stay indoors.
Foreign tourists and local residents reported
hearing motorized troops movements, gunshots, and
explosions. They were progressively expelled from
the city during the week together with foreign
journalists, leaving few independent
witnesses.[40] The government started dispatching
large numbers of troops from neighboring
provinces, and sent squads of PAP soldiers armed
with automatic weapons to patrol Lhasa’s streets and checkpoints.[41]

Immediately after the March 14 violence, Zhang
Qingli, the Party Secretary of Tibet, urged the
"quick arrest, quick hearing and quick sentencing” of rioters.[42]

Tibetans in Lhasa who called relatives in India
and Nepal reported seeing troops break into
homes, and take away male residents in military
trucks.[43] Lhasa residents were typically asked
to produce personal identity documents and city
municipality residency permits, account for
absent family members, identify anyone in the
house, and guarantee they had not participated in
protests. Some residents claim that troops at
times used brutality to intimidate Tibetans, and
conducted some arrests at gunpoint.[44]

Table: Tibetans Sentenced for Reporting the Situation in Lhasa
Source: Lhasa Evening News (See the link)

November 8, 2008. Table reproduced from "Lhasa
Court Sentences Tibetans for Sharing Information
With ‘The Dalai Clique,’” Congressional-Executive
Commission on China, Feb. 3, 2009,

These sweeps continued for some days. One such
sweep on March 17 resulted in the death of a
32-year-old monk called Tsondru, who fell from a
building during his arrest. According to a Lhasa
resident in her 40s, whose relative was arrested at the same time:

My relative, who is 40 years old, was arrested in
his house in the Meru Neighborhood Committee
compound, in the Tibetan quarter, and taken to a
detention center at the Peding military base in
Taktse [Ch. Dagze] County near Lhasa. The monk,
Tsondru, was thrown from the upper storey of the
Neighborhood Committee’s building at the time of
his arrest. He died from his injuries in the
police vehicle on the way to the detention center.[45]

Another witness, Tenzin Drolkar, told Human
Rights Watch that her family had sheltered a
28-year-old Tibetan woman named Lokha (or Loga,)
who had been shot by security forces:

On the morning of the 15th we left our house,
even though there were reports of shootings. From
the rooftops you could see soldiers advancing
with guns raised. We found a wounded girl in the
street and took her home. She had been shot in
the lower back -- We called a doctor we know, and
his mother persuaded him that he must help fellow
Tibetans in need, and he removed the bullet and stitched the wound ... [46]

Tenzin Drolkar told Human Rights Watch that she
decided to hide the young woman until she was fit
enough to leave, despite authorities warning
against sheltering “rioters,” and security forces
searching the neighborhood for fugitives.

We could not go outside for the next week, not
even to buy vegetables. We had that girl in our
place. There was a government order saying that
anyone harboring people with bullet wounds would
be arrested. They said two people with bullet
wounds were arrested in the courtyard on the far
side of ours. I don’t know their names, but they
were both males. Then someone we know sent a
message to warn us. We found a way to get her
out. Soldiers came to our place that night. About
50 police and soldiers came into our courtyard,
and more than 20 of them went inside peoples’
houses. Anyone without an ID card was taken away.[47]

The government has denied that security forces
caused the death of any suspect during the
arrests that followed the violence. None of the
21 reported deaths in Lhasa on March 14 is
attributed to security forces.[48] However a
transcript of an interview given by the
vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region to
the Hong Kong Chinese-language broadcaster
Phoenix TV on March 27, 2008, shows him
acknowledging the death of three protesters:

I can inform you that, until now, three
law-breakers have died. Some tried to jump off a
building during their arrest and died after arriving at the hospital.[49]

The government has offered no explanation for the
discrepancies in the different statements, and
has not conducted any public investigation into the incident.

Case 2: Shooting in Aba [Tib. Ngaba], March 16, 2008

As protests spread throughout the Tibetan
plateau, security forces acknowledged that they
had opened fire in at least two other incidents elsewhere.

The first took place on March 16, near the Kirti
monastery in Aba prefecture (Sichuan province),
when People’s Armed Police (PAP) forces prevented
monks from entering the city to protest massive
security deployment. The following day, hundreds
of residents protested those restrictions, as
well as the arrest of several monks.

Arrests and Detention in Tongren [Tib. Rebgong], Qinghai Province, March 16

The violence by security forces against
protesters was not limited to Lhasa. One
eyewitness recalls soldiers and police in Tongren
[Tib. Rebgong] , Qinghai province, beating
protesters on March 16 with electric batons as
they took them away in police trucks. One man was
beaten so severely that security personnel had to
send him to an emergency hospital in the
provincial capital. The witness, a 55-year-old
former monk whose testimony is cited below, was
beaten along with a friend when they tried to intercede:

The first anti-government protest was on March
16, 2008. Around 11 a.m., some friends arrived at
my home saying that a large crowd of monks and
laypeople had gathered at the gate of the
government compound and were severely beaten by
police. Many of us rushed over there. The first
thing I saw was a lot of soldiers and police
beating the crowd with electric batons. Groups of
four or five soldiers were arresting crowd
members one by one and putting them in a truck.
There was a stationary police vehicle with a loud
siren blaring. A youth pelted the vehicle with
stones, and the police grabbed him, and started
to beat him mercilessly. Then they put him in the
vehicle and took him away.[50]

The witness also described soldiers beating an
elderly man in his sixties who continued to shout
slogans after he had already been loaded in a truck:

 From inside the truck he kept shouting "May His
Holiness the Dalai Lama live for 10,000 years!"
and “Tibet is independent!”, and for this, five
or six soldiers threw him to the ground and beat
him so severely that he seemed close to death. He
was immediately taken to [the provincial capital]
Xining in an emergency vehicle.[51]

Security forces beat those who tried to intercede, even if they were elderly:

Alak Kasotsang, the eldest and most senior Lama
in Rebgong, arrived to address the crowd of monks
and ordinary people. The police and army beat him
too. Tsunthar Gyal, a 72-year-old elder, and I
could not bear to see the soldiers beating monks
and went to restrain them. We thought it would be
better if we elders intervened. But incredibly
they beat us too, and put us in a car and took us
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