Nonviolent persistence in Tibet

The WRI Prisoners for Peace Honour Roll cannot include all the nonviolent social activists imprisoned in the pursuit of peace, freedom and justice. Therefore each year WRI intends to highlight one struggle.

In the face of severe and protracted repression, many Tibetans have tried to find nonviolent means to oppose the Chinese occupation. Many Tibetans have also been driven into exile, and increasingly there is talk of the need for armed struggle. (No chance of UN military intervention here!) DOMINIQUE SAILLARD appeals for support for the existing nonviolent struggle in Tibet before it is too late.

"Four criminals in Tibet have been released on parole or as a result of commuted sentence by the Chinese judicial department." With these words that the official Xinhua news agency announced the release of four Tibetan political prisoners, together with another four Chinese dissidents, on 6 November. The news came only days before President Jiang Zemin was scheduled to meet with US president Bill Clinton at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Indonesia, Beijing's last chance to push its case for re-admission to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade at the highest level.

The move, aimed at appeasing criticisms of China's human rights record, contrasts with the cruel treatment inflicted upon the Tibetan resistance movement since the Chinese invasion of 1959. The Tibetan government in exile has estimated that over a million people have died as a direct result of the occupation. According to independent sources, more than 500 political prisoners are currently languishing in several prisons and so-called "re-education through labour" camps in Tibet. Many of them receive extremely long sentences (up to 28 years in one case) for shouting or writing pro-independence slogans in entirely nonviolent demonstrations that often last only a few minutes before participants are arrested by the Chinese police.

Although the Chinese government keeps the names and numbers of Tibetan political prisoners a tight secret, underground activists are ready to risk long prison sentences and even their lives to smuggle information out of the country. In 1993, the Tibet Information Network compiled a list of 467 political prisoners, most of whom were monks or nuns, reflecting the prominence of religious leaders in the Tibetan independence movement. They often feel better able to protest against the Chinese, because they have no one dependent on them who will suffer if they are jailed or killed. In recent years, nuns have played an increasingly visible role and repeatedly taken to the streets despite facing automatic arrest. Such protests lead to long prison sentences, sometimes death, and almost always cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of the police and prison guards. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have reported rapes by soldiers or with electrical batons, attacks by specially trained dogs, prolonged hangings from trees, severe beatings, nipple laceration, and other forms of tortures and sexual humiliation which are not typical of the experience of male prisoners.

The upcoming year brings a lot of risks and uncertainties for the Tibetan resistance movement. On the one hand, the Chinese government is likely to launch a charm offensive directed at the international community on the eve of several important events at the UN level. This might result in much-publicised releases of a few, carefully selected political prisoners, much in the style of what happened last week.

Behind this facade, however, many observers fear that China will do its best to keep all public signs of discontent under a heavy lid, and step up its efforts at silencing the Tibetan resistance movement. Increased repression took place during the Chinese candidacy to host the Year 2000 Olympic games, and this could happen again in the run-up to the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing next September. Another danger lies in the failing health of 90-year-old Deng Xiaoping, whose death is expected to herald a difficult period of transition. In an attempt to limit potential political unrest, the Chinese authorities will probably issue very strict orders to the army and police all over Tibet.

Given the ambivalence of many foreign governments, more interested in pursuing business deals with China, than in seriously challenging its position over Tibet, the Tibetan resistance movement might largely be left to its own devices. In March next year, the Tibetan government in exile will organise a consultation on the course the resistance should take in the future. Given the failure of the negotiations with the Chinese, some people are already openly voicing their criticisms of the Dalai Lama's nonviolent strategy. That is why on Prisoners for Peace Day this year WRI has chosen to highlight the tragic situation of political prisoners in Tibet. Grassroots international support to the nonviolent resistance movement is more needed than ever. Any pressure activists put on the Chinese and their own governments could indeed help alleviate the suffering of the Tibetan people.

Tibet Support Group UK, 9 Islington Green, London N1 2XH, England (tel +44 171 359 7573; fax 354 1026)

Tibet Information Network, 7 Beck Rd, London E8 4RE, England (tel +44 181 533 5458; fax 985 4751; email
Nuns' sentences increased for singing

Last year, 14 nuns, arrested between 1989 and 1992 for taking part in Tibetan independence demonstrations, have had their sentences increased by up to 9 years for composing and recording pro-independence songs on a tape-recorder smuggled into the Drapchi prison, in Lhasa. Their names are followed by the original sentence and the additional sentence received:

* Tenzin Thubten (5 yrs, 9 yrs)
* Phuntsok Nyidron (9 yrs, 8 yrs)
* Ngawang Choekyi (5 yrs, 8 yrs)
* Gyaltsen Dolkar (4 yrs, 8 yrs)
* Namdol Lhamo (8 yrs, 6 yrs)
* Ngawang Choezom (5 yrs, 6 yrs)
* Gyaltsen Choezom (4 yrs, 5 yrs)
* Rigzin Choekyi (7 yrs, 5 yrs)
* Palden Choedon (3 yrs, 5 yrs)
* Jigme Yangchen (7 yrs, 5 yrs)
* Ngawang Lochoe (5 yrs, 5yrs)
* Ngawang Tsamdrol (5 yrs, 5 yrs)
* Lhandup Sangmo (4 yrs, 5 yrs)

Send letters of protest asking for the immediate and unconditional release of the 14 nuns and all other political prisoners in Tibet to:
Li Peng Zongli
9 Xihuang-chenggen Beijie
Beijing-shi 100032
People's Republic of China

Chairman Gyaltsen Norbu
Xizang Zizhiqu Renmin Zhengfu
Tibet Autonomous Region People's Government
1 Kang'an Donglu
Lasa-shi Zizhiqu
People's Republic of China

Tibet Autonomous Region Chief Procurator Yang Youcai Jianchazhang
Xizang Zizhiqu Renmin Jianchayuan
Xizang Zizhiqu
People's Republic of China