ISSN 2330-717X

China: Imprisoned Tibetan Monk’s Health In Peril

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The Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally release the imprisoned Tibetan monk and religious philosopher Go Sherab Gyatso, Human Rights Watch said today.

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Close associates outside of Tibet say Go Sherab Gyatso’s health has recently worsened. He suffers from a chronic lung condition, and may not be receiving adequate medical treatment in prison.

“Once again the Chinese government’s wrongful imprisonment of a Tibetan risks becoming a death sentence,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Go Sherab Gyatso should be immediately released and given comprehensive medical care.”

Ministry of State Security agents detained Go Sherab Gyatso, 45, on October 26, 2020, in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, the Chinese authorities said in an August 2021 statement, in response to an inquiry from three United Nations human rights experts. The authorities transferred him to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), where, on February 3, 2021, he was formally charged with “inciting secession.” The government statement said he was later tried but did not give the date or outcome of the trial. Tibetan sources outside the country report he was given a 10-year sentence and is in Chushul Prison, 20 kilometers southwest of Lhasa.

Exile sources report that no visitors have been allowed to see Go Sherab Gyatso and that he is in poor health. The Chinese authorities had previously detained him on at least three other occasions. He contracted a chronic lung condition while serving a three-year sentence for undisclosed reasons from November 1998 to November 2001. He was on a routine visit to Chengdu for treatment of his medical condition in October 2020 when State Security agents seized him.

The recent reports about Go Sherab Gyatso’s health cannot be independently verified, Human Rights Watch said. However, there have been a number of cases in which Chinese authorities have allowed people in Tibet and across China who were arbitrarily detained on politically motivated charges to die in custody for lack of appropriate medical care.

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The eminent Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was serving an 11-year term for “subversion,” died in July 2017 from liver cancer for which he received inadequate treatment and was denied foreign medical care. The prominent Tibetan lama and philanthropist Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in a prison in Chengdu in July 2015, after serving 13 years of a life sentence for “terrorism and inciting separatism,” during which he was reportedly denied medical care for a heart condition and family members were allowed to visit him only once.

Human Rights Watch has reported on the deaths of three Tibetans due to severe ill treatment in custody since October 2020, LhamoTenzin Nyima, and Kunchok Jinpa. Exile media sources have reported additional such deaths, including of a man named Norsang in 2019, and the deaths of four former political detainees between 2018 and 2020 – Shonnu PaldenPema WangchenGendun Sherab, and Choeki – following mistreatment in custody.

The same sources have also reported three cases of prisoners released between December 2019 and February 2021 – Tsegon GyalDolkar, and Gangbu Rikgye Nyima – who were in a critical condition due to their treatment in custody, and of another seriously ill Tibetan prisoner, Dhongye, who remains in custody.

Chinese authorities have not publicly produced evidence to substantiate the secession charge against Go Sherab Gyatso. The charge typically refers to support for Tibetan independence. Human Rights Watch has found no indication of such support in his writings and speeches, or in statements from those familiar with his life and work. Human Rights Watch takes no position regarding the political status of Tibet but supports everyone’s right to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal.

Human Rights Watch is further concerned that Go Sherab Gyatso was tried in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) even though he lived in a Tibetan area of Sichuan and was detained in that province. He studied at Sera monastery in Lhasa from 2002 to 2008, but has no other known connection to the TAR.

There is no indication that he committed any crime in the TAR or elsewhere, suggesting that the authorities detained and prosecuted him to intimidate other Tibetan monks and writers. The TAR authorities pursue more aggressive policies than those in other Tibetan areas of China, but it is rare for the TAR authorities to detain a person from outside the TAR and charge them for an alleged crime with no obvious connection to the region.

“The Chinese authorities’ determination to systematically silence Tibetan scholars is clear evidence that their aim is to devastate Tibetan culture, language, and religion,” Richardson said. “Go Sherab Gyatso’s immensely important work should not put him in prison at risk for his life.”

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