Legal Materials on Tibet
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Secretary-General's Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

Annex II.6
Law Association for Asia and the Western Pacific (LAWASIA): Extrajudicial forms of political control in Tibet


1. It is the publicly stated policy of the Government of China to eradicate all manifestations of the independence movement in Tibet. In the process, organs of the State, particularly the security forces and the judicial system, continue to violate international standards relating to arrest, detention, trial, treatment of detention and the right to life. Their activities have been described in reports produced by other organizations.

2. This document focuses on other lesser known organs of the State which in Tibet operate a less visible system of political monitoring and control. The document describes a series of overlapping institutions which are integrated into every citizen's place of work, leisure and worship.

3. This system imposes a range of extrajudicial sanctions on people identified as nationalist sympathizers. It also operates as an intelligence network which identifies independence activities or dissidents who may then be arrested and imprisoned. This network of control is extensive and is used both as an arm of the security forces and as an intimidatory device which is apparently intended to deter Tibetans from exercising many of their fundamental human rights.

Neighbourhood committees and work unit meetings

4. Tibetan, and some Chinese, residents throughout Tibet are registered either at a work unit or at a neighbourhood committee located in residential areas. Work units exist throughout China and are the basic units of economic organization and administration: a factory, a government department, a monastery, all constitute separate units. Expulsion from one's work unit is a serious threat, since this would mean exclusion from access to certain educational, social and political institutions as well as to basic requirements such as rationed goods.

5. Since 1954, nearly 100,000 neighborhood committees have been established in urban areas of China, each responsible for between 2,000 and 3,000 citizens, divided up into subcommittees of 300-400 people each. In Lhasa, however, neighborhood committees are only found in the Tibetan areas of the city. Sources in Lhasa say that in 1988, soon after the current wave of unrest began, their number was doubled from 12 to 24. Each household is obliged to send one member to full meetings of the neighbourhood committee. Families who do not send one representative to the meetings can be fined 5-10 YRMB (the equivalent of about US$1-2, or one day's wage for manual labour) or may have their right to buy goods at subsidized prices suspended.

6. Since the current wave of independence demonstrations began in October 1987, neighbourhood committees and work units have increased the frequency of their meetings and have intensified their grass-roots security and surveillance functions. They now play a major role in the government strategy to suppress the Tibetan nationalist movement. In the area around the Jokhang temple, meetings were held on average once every two weeks from October 1987 until at least October 1990. Meetings are still as frequent around the time of sensitive anniversaries (March, July, September and December) when demonstrations are expected. After September 1989, study sessions at work units were conducted three times a week, sometimes lasting up to six hours per day.

7. It is in the neighbourhood committees and work units that government policies and restrictions, such as the Martial Law Decrees promulgated in March 1989, are often announced. Often these instructions carry legal force backed up by severe sanctions but are not published by the authorities in any other form. At a meeting of the Tromsekhang Neighborhood Committee in Lhasa on 21 February 1990, residents were instructed that until further notice they were prohibited from throwing tsampa (roast barley flour) in the air and that incense burning could only be performed by individuals and families, and not organised groups. Violation of the new "regulations" was said to incur a three-year prison sentence and a number of people have been given prison sentences for throwing tsampa in the air.

8. When demonstrations are expected, the meetings have been used to issue warnings of legal sanctions. Residences and employees were informed in meeting in March 1990 that if they participated in a demonstration they would be expelled from their work units, imprisoned, or shot on sight, according to a number of eye-witness accounts. Residences of the Gyurme Neighborhood Committee in Lhasa were told in March 1990 that they would be held responsible if any pro-independence posters appeared in their residential compounds.

Monitoring of opinion in meetings

9. An essential element of the neighborhood committee is the education of citizens in the current party line. By demanding that participants voice their opinions, the work unit and neighbourhood committee meetings are able to access Tibetans' political loyalties. Participants at these meetings are also asked to give positive affirmations of faith in the leading role of the Communist Party. Following detailed guidelines issued in January 1991 for a renewed campaign of propaganda work, Tibetans in towns and villages throughout Tibet were ordered to attend small group study sessions in the build-up to the 40th anniversary of the "Peaceful Liberation of Tibet". Tibetans who are reluctant to speak up or who are openly supportive of the independence movement are liable to be identified for further observation. Some may be referred to the police for possible arrest. Tibetans have also been encouraged to inform on possible independence sympathizers by speaking up during meetings or, since September 1989, by anonymously placing the suspect's names in "denunciation boxes" located in workplaces and residential areas.

10. These and similar functions performed by neighbourhood committees and work units in Tibet are not evident to outside observers and foreign visitors. Nevertheless, these organizations play an increasingly important role in preventing the expression of political dissent and in denying Tibetans the right to exercise fundamental human rights.

Security functions of work units and neighbourhood committees and political surveillance in schools

11. Work units and neighborhood committees also have direct responsibilities for security matters and for enforcing controls. Throughout Tibet, informal security units called "safety and security committees" operate in villages and within urban neighbourhood committees. Their duties illustrate the close relationship between the propaganda and policing functions of most extrajudicial institutions in Tibet. According to an article in Tibet Daily the 17 safety and security committees in Lhasa have held at least 492 meetings since October 1987, involving 92,459 people, in which citizens were told to avoid the "Seven Do Nots: don't watch, don't participate, don't support, don't spread rumors, don't believe in rumours, don't sympathize, don't cover up." These committees, however, also cooperate closely with the police, to whom they are directly responsible, by investigating possible independence activity, conducting night patrols and reporting to police on the activities of suspected political opponents. Their activities have been intensified since March 1991, according to official reports.

12. A sophisticated system of surveillance, including a network of ordinary Chinese and Tibetans who work as informers, had also been developed. Informers are recruited either by the lure of lucrative financial awards, or because of threats that unless they cooperate they will themselves be imprisoned for political activity or their relatives will be harmed.

13. The same measure of control exists within schools. Reflecting the policy in neighbourhood committee and work units, students at some middle schools have been required to give written answers to questionnaires that ask for opinions about the independence movement. On 3 January 1989, an official notice was circulated to all work units attended by the parents of children at the Lhasa no. 1 Middle School and to the parents themselves. It ordered cadres to monitor the political activity of pupils during school holidays.

14. There have been reports of Tibetan children being expelled from school after taking part in independence activities. In one case, Migmar, a resident of the Nyak Khang area of Lhasa, was arrested on 6 March 1989 after taking part in independence demonstrations. After his release, on 6 March 1990, he was told by school authorities that he could not return to the school, reportedly because of his nationalist activities.

"Work teams"--mobile political investigation teams

15. Acting independently of both the neighbourhood committees and work units, the Ledhon Rukhag known in English as "work teams" (and the related Ledhon Tsogchung or work team committees) consist of trusted government employees and Communist Party members considered to have persuasive characters and to be well versed in political doctrine. They are formed into ad hoc mobile teams that are sent to investigate suspected criminal incidents including political disturbances. Work teams review work unit and neighbourhood committee files on politically suspect Tibetans and collaborate with the police, procuracy and courts to decide whether an individual should be put under surveillance, detained or expelled from their workplace.

16. It appears that prior to 1989 work teams operated only in politically volatile towns such as Lhasa, Tsentang, Gyantse and Chamdo and rarely in more stable, remote rural regions. However, after the "screening and investigation" campaign (see below) was launched in October 1989, work teams spread out to most, if not all areas of Tibet, rural and urban.

Activities of work teams in monasteries

17. Work teams have been the key weapon in the extrajudicial attack on monasteries and nunneries that have been expressed, even peacefully, any political opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet. In an internal TAR Communist Party circular issued in November 1990, Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chairman of the TAR, made it cleat that direct security and political control in monasteries was to be strengthened further.

Screening and investigation by work teams and expulsions of monks and nuns

18. Ad hoc work teams have periodically lived in all politically suspect monasteries in the Lhasa region since early 1988. For example, between autumn 1987 and the end of 1990, work teams resided in Garu, on of the most militant nunneries in Tibet, for a total of 18 months. the teams are reported to have returned to Garu on 18 April 1991, when they announced a ban on admissions to the nunnery and other restrictions. Together with the democratic management committees ("chose don u yon lhan khang") the task of work teams is to identify monks and nuns suspected of repeated involvement in any type of nationalist activities or whose political loyalties are suspect.

19. Since the major independence demonstration in March 1988, monks and nuns have been required to attend regular meetings characterized by threats of violence. On 5 September 1988, after 45 members of a work team moved into Sera monastery, the monks were told, according to one monk who was present: "You must confess your participation in last year's demonstration. If you do not confess and if you do it again, we will kill you; we will execute you; we will put you in prison for life. The weight of the law will come down on you."

20. Some of the monks and nuns identified by the work teams as recalcitrants repeatedly involved in nationalist activity have been imprisoned. Others, including many who have merely refused to repudiate Tibetan independence, have been summarily expelled form their monasteries and sent into a form of internal exile. This process is entirely outside the judicial system and involves decisions taken by political functionaries from which there is no appeal. As part of a major crackdown, more that 200 monks and nuns were expelled between December 1989 and April 1990, including 37 from Drepung, 80 from Chupsang Nunnery and 27 from Shungseb Nunnery.

21. The nuns from Garu and Chupsang nunneries, for example, were told that after their expulsions they were:

(a) Prohibited form wearing monastic robes or keeping their heads shaved;

(b) Prohibited from rejoining their former nunneries or any other nunnery;

(c) Permitted to worship in their local village monasteries, but only of they returned to their family home in the evenings;

(d) Prohibited from performing religious rituals in other people's homes, though it appears they were allowed to privately perform rituals in their own homes;

(e) Prohibited from leaving their villages without permission form the local government representative, and this travel permit would only be granted for a maximum of 15 days;

(f) Required to work as farmers and do no other type of work.

First hand accounts of the expulsion of monks from Drepung, Ganden and other monasteries in the area around Lhasa detail similar restrictions on the freedom of religion and movement.

22. Local Police and civil officials are given a copy of the "charge sheet" and instructed to keep the expelled monks and nuns under surveillance. Parents of the expelled monk and nuns are also made to sign a pledge that they will be held responsible if their son or daughter engages in further independence activities.

"Screening and investigation" Campaign

23. In October 1989, the regional government launched a campaign throughout Tibet to conduct "screening and investigation" of all Tibetans suspected of political dissent, including Party members. A new department called the "Office for stabilizing the situation" was set up to train 1,000 investigators and to supervise the operation, which was carried out through the work units, the neighbourhood committees and work teams. One circular issued by this Office indicated that guilt could be inferred from attitude alone. It stated that anyone found refusing to follow neighbourhood committee directives "or bearing resentment against screening and investigation work either in words or action" must be immediately reported to higher level departments or the "Office for stabilizing the situation".

24. The "screening and investigation" was part of a campaign to purge supporters of the pro-democracy movement in China. In Tibet, however, the campaign has focused on employees and Party cadres with pro-independence sympathies. Migmar Tenzon, a 25-year old Tibetan who worked as an electronic technician for the TAR government, was dismissed from his job on 6 April 1991, reportedly because his mother, 44-year old Ngawang Youdon, was serving a 6-year sentence in Drapchi Prison for independence activities. On 8 October 1991, and article in Tibet Daily, and official publication, indicated that a renewed campaign of screening was in process amongst party members and cadres suspected of dissident and pro-independence views.


25. The institutions described in this document--work units, neighborhood committees, work teams, schools and safety and security committees--attempt to instill in citizens a commitment to obey Government and Communist Party policies. These organizations thus appear to play an instructive role but, backed up by judicial and extrajudicial sanctions, in fact operate as agencies of the State which are designed to deter, monitor and punish opponents of the Government and the Communist Party. In Tibet, these institutions are an integral part of the strategy to suppress even peaceful expressions of political dissent. The activities of these institutions directly and indirectly violate the Tibetan's basic rights, including their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, demonstration, religion, and right to receive and impart information.

Secretary-General's Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

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