China Secretly Jailed Tibetan Monks for Up to 20 Years, Human Rights Watch Reports

Chinese authorities sentenced four Tibetan monks to up to 20 years in prison in secret trials despite no evidence of committing illegal acts, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on July 6.

In a 61-page report, HRW revealed that police in the Tibetan capital Lhasa raided the Tengdro monastery in September 2019 after discovering private messages, which contained records of donations to a 2015 Nepal earthquake relief effort, on a cellphone lost by Tibetan monk Choegyal Wangpo. The raid led to multiple arrests and secret trials.

Four monks — Wangpo, Lobsang Jinpa, Norbu Dondrup, and Ngawang Yeshe — received prison sentences of up to 20 years despite no apparent evidence showing that the cellphone messages or the humanitarian donations violated Chinese law, HRW said.

“The Tengdro monks case demonstrates the arbitrary and extreme manner in which restrictions on online communications are being enforced throughout Tibetan areas,” HRW stated.

HRW drew interviews with Tibetans outside China, official media, social media, and exile media reports after learning of the raid to determine an explanation for the “extreme” punishment.

Citing sources, HRW said that authorities detained 20 monks during and after the raid, most of whom were held without trial for several months in the nearby Tingri county town and are believed to have been released after pledging to not carry out any political acts. They were also blocked from rejoining the monastery.

Authorities have also detained and beaten Tibetans for posts deemed to “endanger national security,” according to HRW.

“The horrific treatment of the Tengdro monks points to the Chinese government’s pressure on officials in Tibet to find and punish cases of political subversion – even if the alleged subversion is a figment of their imagination,” Sophie Richardson, China Director at HRW, said in a statement.


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