Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Torture in Tibet

Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso was imprisoned by the Chinese for over thirty years before he was finally released in 1992. During those three decades, he was repeatedly tortured by his captors. The torture weapon of choice for the Chinese seems to be the electric cattle prod. Palden Gyatso lost twenty teeth after an electric baton was shoved down his throat during one torture session. Since his release, he's toured the world, displaying torture devices similar to those used on him and witnessing to the horrors of torture.

Nagawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan nun, was imprisoned when she was 13 years old, and released when she was in her mid-20s. Like Palden Gyatso, she was tortured with cattle prods. She was also beaten with sticks, pipes, canes, and belts, hung in midair with her arms tied behind her, forced to stand in extreme heat or cold, and held in solitary confinement. Her crime? Shouting "Independence for Tibet" and "Long Live the Dalai Lama."
Since China's invasion of Tibet in 1950, thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned and tortured. The International Campaign for Tibet estimates that over 1 million Tibetans have died from violence, starvation, or imprisonment since the invasion (this figure has been disputed by Michael Parenti, who also argues that pre-1950 Tibet was an oppressively feudal society). Some 200 Tibetan political prisoners are currently held in Chinese prisons, 80% of them monks and nuns. Almost all political prisoners who have been released report torture.
This should surprise no one. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN regularly report human rights abuses in China, and one of the favored targets are the people of Tibet. Tibetans, who have a totally separate culture, language, and history, are viewed by the Chinese as backward aboriginals who stand in the way of economic development and progress. The strategy seems to be mass colonization of Tibet with Chinese nationals, with the inevitable marginalization of indigenous Tibetans. A few of the monastery-universities that were destroyed by the Peoples Liberation Army in earlier decades are currently being restored by the Chinese, but only in the interests of tourism. So far as the Chinese government's concerned, the Dalai Lama is still officially persona non grata. The Panchen Lama, second-highest ranking Tibetan lama after the Dalai Lama, has been a political prisoner of the Chinese since he was a child. His current whereabouts is unknown.
Despite China's continuing abuse of Tibetans (and others, such as Muslim Uighurs), the United States insists on granting it Most Favored Nation Trade status (this is a bipartisan decision, by the way). It's not difficult to see why. In China, labor is poorly paid, there are virtually no environmental protection laws, and consumer goods are produced cheaply by western standards. Every year, the United States purchases fully half of all Chinese exports, resulting in a trade deficit now standing at over $17 billion. And what this means is that the American consumer is helping to fund torture in Tibet.
Think of this the next time you go shopping.
-A couple of good video resources:
-A detailed Human Rights Watch report: