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Tibetan Deaths in Chinese Police Custody Draw International Scrutiny

  • Shannon Van Sant

International rights groups are speaking out about the deaths of several Tibetans in police custody this week. The Tibetans were arrested during protests in southwestern China, a region that has seen protests and self-immolations over the last few years by Tibetans opposing Beijing's policies.

Five Tibetans died this week after a protest in China’s Sichuan Province. International rights groups who contacted local eyewitnesses said police opened fire on the demonstrators, and five died after being denied medical treatment while in police custody.

Alistair Currie with Free Tibet, a London-based NGO, says that hundreds of people had been protesting when police began shooting.

“The police opened fire on them. At the time there were 10 serious injuries. Since then we have learned that 5 people have died in custody. One of those people committed suicide in protest against the denial of medical treatment, and as far as we are aware none of the injured have had proper medical treatment,” said Currie.

Tsewang Gonpo, 60, Yeshe, 42, and Jinpa Tharchin, 18, died of gunshot wounds. According to the Washington-based rights group International Campaign for Tibet, the one who committed suicide was named Lo Palsang. Another unnamed person died of untreated wounds sustained during the protest.

They had joined about 100 Tibetans to protest the detention of a Tibetan village leader in Ganzi (Garze) prefecture, who was arrested earlier this month after he complained about the harassment of local women by government authorities.

Mass protests spread

Currie says mass demonstrations over a broad range of issues have spread throughout Tibetan regions.

“We’ve seen an increase in mass protests, in sort of large, numbers of people protesting against various issues from environmental destruction to the actions of the security forces,” said Currie.

The protests occurred in an area bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region, where unrest and demonstrations are common.

“Opening fire with live ammunition is relatively rare but in the last year we’ve known of two other occasions in which this has happened. Tibetans face the risk of death for any sort of protest of this nature,” said Currie.

In recent years more than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese government policy. Some protesters speak out against perceived discrimination and prejudice from Han Chinese, others say they are demonstrating for religious freedom and the return of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile since 1959.

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