What goes on inside China’s Tibet Autonomous Region?

Chinese propaganda regarding the Communist nation being a savior of the dying Tibetan nation has, time and again, overpowered the pleas of native Tibetans for freedom.

Despite China’s claim that Tibet has been a part of China for the past 800 years, the people of Tibet have a different story to tell. As gathered from the statements of Tibetan people who fled out of mainland Tibet, Tibet was forcefully colonized in 1950 by China. An army of 40,000 invaded the Tibetan mainland and forced Tibet to sign the Seventeen Point Agreement in 1951. This allowed the People’s Republic of China to implement effective and forceful control over Tibet.

In 1965, China provided Tibet with the status of an Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, much like Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. As an Autonomous Region, Tibet should be able to maintain its separate local government and enjoy a higher number of legislative rights than most Chinese provinces. However, this designation of Tibet as an autonomous region is considered to be a façade that the PRC has successfully pulled off for the past 60 years.

After His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (HHDL) fled Tibet to seek refuge in Himachal Pradesh of India in 1959, more than one lakh Tibetans have fled Tibet in the past six decades. The Tibetans, mostly unaccompanied children, flee Tibet through the route of Nangpa La Pass, which joins the Tibetan and Nepalese Himalayan ranges at 19,000 feet above sea level. The trek is a month long journey on foot and away from the eyes of the Chinese soldiers. Most refugees lose thumbs, toes and feet to frostbite; some freeze to death and are left to be buried by the snow. Once in Nepal, they are flown to India’s Dharamsala for better care and education.

HHDL, along with other high officials of the Tibetan community, has established a Tibetan government in exile called Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamshala of Himachal Pradesh. The population of eight million Tibetan people follows the directions of the CTA and the teachings of HHDL very religiously.

On the 10th of March in 1959, thousands of Tibetans surrounded the HHDL’s then residence, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, in fear that kidnapping or assassination of their leader by the Chinese troops was forthcoming. In 2019, Tibet stepped into its 60th year of resistance, which began its journey with the Tibetan Uprising of March 1959. Tibet’s struggle for independence is the longest in the history of war, as around a hundred countries have gained independence in the meantime but Tibet’s protests remain fruitless.

Survivors of the oppression by China, including HHDL, have repeatedly brought to our attention that conditions of Tibetans left behind in Tibet are below humanity. Chinese propaganda regarding the Communist nation being a savior of the dying Tibetan nation has, time and again, overpowered the pleas of native Tibetans for freedom.

The mass media and the world audience alike have little to no knowledge about what goes on inside China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.  China has blocked all paths that would allow the international community to know about the condition of people left behind in Tibet. International media is rarely permitted to enter the Tibetan region and those that are allowed are always tailed by Chinese Patrol Police cars. The fact that there are more foreign journalists in North Korea than in Tibet shows how unaware the world is about the activities of the Chinese authorities in Tibet.

The six million Tibetan residents left behind in Tibet have no way to move or travel out of the nation as the passports of the residents of TAR have been confiscated by the local authorities since 2012. With increasing “preferential conditions” on the issuance of a passport to residents of TAR, the only way is fleeing through the Himalayas, which has also been decreasing in recent years due to China and India’s growing political relationship.

Regarding the activities inside Tibet, reports of human rights violation under the Chinese rule are not uncommon to hear from people who have survived the oppression and successfully fled out of Tibet. The main concern of the Tibetan people revolves around the denial of freedom for religious practice.

The Tibetan people deeply believe in and practice Tibetan-Buddhism and, as an autonomous region, the residential Tibetans should be free to practice their religion. However, the PRC has actively disrupted the Tibetan’s religious practice by destroying monasteries around the nation and holding the Tibetans in re-education camps.

Before the colonization, Tibet had more than 2500 monasteries, where knowledge of Tibetan-Buddhism, culture and language was taught to the monks and nuns. After the Tibetan Uprising of 1959, monasteries were destroyed in thousands and people were discouraged from following Tibetan-Buddhism. Monasteries were targeted as monks and nuns were often the initiators of protests against the PRC rule. Around the 1990s, only 70 monasteries were left and the number of monks and nuns within Tibet fell from 110000 to 7000.

People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities have kept a close eye on the religious practices of the Tibetan people in TAR. The mere activity of owning a picture of HHDL or sharing his preaching with others can lead to jail-time. The Tibetan flag and the Tibetan national anthem have been banned.

The monasteries are under strict surveillance and the authorities are quick to shove suspected protesters into re-education camps where they are detained and tortured until they sign a letter renouncing HHDL and accepting China’s rule over Tibet.  Those who refuse to renounce HHDL are at a risk of losing their limbs at the least and their lives at the most.

The expression of desire for freedom by the Tibetans is ruled as a criminal act of splittism and offenders must serve years of prison under the brutal rule of Chinese authorities. Chinese authorities are infamous for practicing techniques of torture that leave the detainee unable to use their bodies after the sentence is served.

The possession of a Tibetan flag or saying statements such as “Tibet is not a part of China” and “Free Tibet from Chinese Rule” is a guaranteed way to brutal torture and prison time for years. One young Tibetan served six years in jail for taking part in a peaceful three minute demonstration of desire for freedom of Tibet. While he was able to live through the sentence to share his story, most prisoners never make it out of the detention center alive.

Torture in Tibet is so brutal that people consider slaughter a better option in comparison. While torture has been outlawed in China and practice of torture is a criminal offense, the Chinese authorities go unpunished no matter how brutally they treat the Tibetan political prisoners. Starvation for days and beating for hours is the most basic form of torture. Prisoners are interrogated while being tied to iron chairs by their shackles, they are hung by their wrists from the ceiling and beaten without any clothes on, until they fall unconscious due to extreme pressure.

Along with the use of gun butts and other heavy objects for beating, thin metal strips and electric shocks are used during interrogation. Electric batons are inserted in the prisoner’s mouths when they refuse to answer how the authorities want them to. They are kicked and hit using heavy objects  while being wrapped in a blanket such that external marks are not visible. Prisoners have their lungs and kidneys permanently damaged due to the extreme beatings that they have to endure under the Chinese authorities.

Prisoners are forced to stand in frozen water for hours in the winter and perform military exercise routines in the burning heat during summer. The facilities are so overcrowded that prisoners are not able to straighten their legs during sleep. Prisoners are given a piece of bread with tea for breakfast and then the same for dinner. Without any meals in between, the torture sessions are near death experiences. Prisoners are forced to drink water from the toilet when they are not served water for days.

It is very common for prisoners to bleed and faint during the torture session multiple times a day. Blood and liquids from the spine are extracted against their will for use in the Chinese military. Prisoners abruptly die during interrogation and family members are not even made aware of the reason behind the deaths. Being a prisoner in Tibet is like disappearing off the face of the earth; very few make it back to their families alive.

Tibetans in exile stated that 1.2 million Tibetans were killed in the two or three decades following the Tibetan Uprising of 1959. While the numbers could not be confirmed due to lack of access to Chinese record, there is no doubt that China had perpetrated a mass genocide case in Tibet. The number of killings might be above or below the estimated but the decrease in population of the Tibetans is evident, with only around 8 million Tibetans remaining worldwide.

The PRC’s constant efforts to control the Tibetan population should not be overlooked as a trivial matter. Forced abortion and sterilization are issues that Tibetan women suffer within the Chinese rule. Tibetan women must be married and aged between 25 to 35 to have a child. A second child can only be conceived after four years of the first child’s birth. Giving birth outside of these rules can lead to abortion or sterilization, without the women’s consents.

The Chinese government’s excuse of trying to eradicate poverty by decreasing Tibet’s population has worn out as widespread control of Tibetan culture has been prominent in TAR. The Tibetan education system is slowly being replaced by the Chinese through introduction of Chinese books and instructions. Chinese instructors from all over China are being sent to TAR to replace the Tibetan ones.

Low-income Chinese people are seen migrating to TAR in thousands for industrial jobs, making the Tibetan people lose their jobs. Tibetan culture is losing its uniqueness because Chinese people now outnumber the Tibetans in their own region. With growing Chinese influence and hindrances in learning about the Tibetan culture, Tibetan children are losing their ability to identify as true Tibetans, even within Tibet.

Communication mediums such as cell phones, landlines and internet transmissions have been repeatedly disrupted, as per reports from foreign media and international Tibetan communities. The Chinese authorities are being suspected of interrupting the flow of information from within the nation to the international communities.

Most common ways are cutting calls mid-way, sending bad signals or playing Tibetan songs when the call is received. While many phones are disconnected as a part of “tight communication restrictions with the outside world”, the functioning phones are not received by the owners. Instances of being detained over text messages revealing information regarding Tibet’s condition have been observed. Such strict communication regulations only confirm that the situation of Tibet is one that China does not want the world news to learn about.

The Tibetan movement for freedom has gained a lot of popularity and support from the Western and International communities in the past decades. Students for a Free Tibet and Free Tibet are the leading communities in the scene. The Chinese government has been called out year after year by the Tibetan community and its supporters for its horrific and inhumane treatment of the Tibetans within Tibet, especially the prisoners.

The Chinese government, however, denies all accusations and continues to propagate that the international community is supporting the movement solely because they want to disrupt China’s race towards becoming the strongest economy of the world. Chinese authorities are making sure that what goes on inside Tibet remains inside Tibet. It is disheartening that the entire international community together has not been able to save a nation that has been calling for help for the past 60 years.

We firmly believe that awareness regarding any issue is the first-step towards a change. Through this article, we aim to make the global audience more aware of the condition of the Tibetan community within and outside China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

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