Authorities in Qinghai province in northwestern China last month detained a Tibetan woman known for her online advocacy of democracy and the rule of law, holding her for 10 days before releasing her under continuing surveillance, Tibetan sources say.
Tsering Tso, who had drawn police attention with her postings on the social media platform WeChat, was taken into custody at her home in the provincial capital Xining on Nov. 12 and brought by 10 officers to a detention center in Trika (in Chinese, Guide) county, an India-based Tibetan rights group said this week.
“In addition to surviving only on steamed buns and boiled water during her detention, she was subjected to ill-treatment and intimidation,” the Tibetan Centre For Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said, adding that detaining officers had hoped to pressure her to give up her advocacy work.
“By detaining people like Tsering Tso, the Chinese government is violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed and agreed to abide by. However, China is inflicting many other policies on Tibetans in Tibet that violate international laws,” TCHRD researcher Tenzin Dawa said.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is one of some 60 rights instruments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.
With the approach of the annual UN Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, estimates of political prisoners in Tibet range from more than 500 in U.S. Congressional reports to more than 2,000 in a database kept by the TCHRD.
“Tibetan political prisoners endure harsh prison conditions, including torture, deprivation of food and sleep, and long periods in isolation cells,” said the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, which notes that “opaque” Chinese record keeping makes it hard to determine how many are being held.
“In the current political climate imposed by Chinese authorities, even the most mild expressions of Tibetan cultural or religious identity can be punished by torture and arrest,” says the ICT.
One of the most famous prisoners of conscience is Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who vanished into Chinese custody as a young boy 25 years ago and has not been heard from since.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six as the 11th Panchen Lama, the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
The recognition by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama angered Chinese authorities, who promptly took the boy and his family into custody and then installed another boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as their own candidate in his place.
The ranks of Tibet’s political prisoners include numerous monks, scholars, educators, and artists.
Beaten by police
Tsering Tso had also served a period of detention in 2017 after petitioning for the rights of Tibetans to apply for passports, during which she was physically assaulted by a security officer named Jamga who kicked her in the head, face, chest, and abdomen, leaving her hospitalized for her injuries, TCHRD said.
Police officers in November gave no reason for her detention following a trip she made to Thailand, Tso told RFA’s Mandarin Service in an interview.
“There were no concrete reasons for my arrest,” Tso said, adding, “But while I was returning from Thailand, I had a feeling they would arrest me, and I think they had already planned this from the beginning.”
“Finally, on Nov. 2, I was accused of violating the law by sending two message on WeChat related to issues of ‘stability,’ and I was detained for 10 days. I have no idea how my postings might have threatened stability,” Tso said.
A Nov. 13 announcement by the Trika county Public Security Bureau said that Tso had been charged with disseminating discussions of “provocative issues” on social media, adding that she would be fined and held in administrative detention for 10 days.
Tsering Tso had regularly written on topics like democracy and the rule of law on her social media platforms, Dawa told RFA in an interview. “But the Chinese government has always threatened people who speak up about these things.”
Reached for comment on Monday, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said, “We continue to press the [People’s Republic of China] to respect the freedom of speech and beliefs of its own people, and in particular those who seek to protect Tibet’s unique religion, language, and culture.”
Tibetan researcher held
A Tibetan researcher at Tibet University in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa has meanwhile also been detained, with no word given as to his whereabouts since he was taken into custody in June, RFA has learned.
Kunsang Gyaltsen, a student in his late 20s from Qinghai’s Mangra (Chinese, Guinan) county, is thought to have been arrested for circulating booklets containing unauthorized views of Tibet’s political history, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA, citing sources in the region.
“Chinese authorities have concealed all information about him, and despite numerous attempts by family members to learn where he is being held, there has been no response from authorities at all,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Pema Gyal, an analyst at TCHRD, confirmed the account of Gyaltsen’s arrest and disappearance, adding that information about his current status is unavailable “because his parents have been denied access to him.”
A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India, and Beijing maintains a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces.
Reported by Lobe Socktsang for RFA’s Tibetan Service and by the Mandarin Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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