The report: Desecration in Drago County: Destruction of Tibetan Religious Heritage, Arbitrary Detentions and Torture. Photo: Free Tibet

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Dharamshala – Free Tibet and Tibet Watch released a report on the current and urgent situation in Tibet: "Desecration in Drago County: Destruction of Tibetan Religious Heritage, Arbitrary Detentions and Torture" on January 23, 2023.

The report describes how the people of Drago County, known for its strong Tibetan identity and resistance, have been under siege since October 2021. Their cultural and religious heritage is under attack and the residents are being detained, tortured and subjected to "re-education".

The report stated that, “The demolitions in Drago targeted sites and objects of central importance to the religious and cultural life of the local community. Most notably, these include three colossal statues of the Buddha that were destroyed, evoking the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan 20 years earlier. Other sites and items that were destroyed include:
• a Buddhist school
• a building housing 45 giant prayer wheels;
• Residence of a revered spiritual leader
• Drago monastery’s prayer flags, which were taken down and burned"

The report further said, “ At least ten local Tibetans in Drago County were detained and tortured during the period covered in this report, sometimes for reasons as minor as showing distress at the demolitions. The detainees were subjected to interrogation and severe beatings, with a number of them falling unconscious due to severity of torture, and one of them, a woman, being drenched with cold water in freezing winter weather.”

The research group’s report stated that, “New information about security crackdown in the months following the 2012 mass protest is also presented in this report, including primary schools being temporarily used as places to detain and torture protesters, and a police shooting at an entire family of a protester and their dog at their home, and dragging bodies downhill on a motorbike.”

“Tibet Watch has found that the crackdown on freedom of religion and culture in Drago escalated under Wang Dongsheng, the newly nominated Party Secretary of Drago, who was previously involved in mass demolitions and expulsions of thousands of monks and nuns in a famous Tibetan Buddhist Institute called Larung Gar,” the report mentioned.

The report also stated, “The findings in this report demonstrate that, at a minimum, the acts of the police and local authorities have violated Tibetans’ rights to self-determination and freedom of religion, education, expression and assembly. They have also restricted Tibetans’ freedom to take part in cultural life, as well as their rights to privacy, liberty, security of person and freedom from torture.”

“The demolition of religious artefacts and buildings, compelling monks to participate in the destruction and the monitoring of monks’ daily activities violate both domestic laws on freedom of religion in the People’s Republic of China and China’s international obligations under international human rights treaties and customary international law,” the report of organisation revealed.

The report stated, “The destruction of Drago Gaden Monastic School and the expulsion of at least 100 students – depriving them of an education – violate various international and Chinese standards on the right to education.” “Local sources in Drago County have reported all those detained since October have been tortured, including one detainee whose eyes were damaged and one detainee being tortured with cold water in freezing weather. These are clear violations of the Convention Against Torture, which is unequivocal in its absolute prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the report said.

London based organisation-Free Tibet urges the Chinese government to:
• Respect the Tibetan people’s rights to freedom of religion and culture and immediately cease practices such as demolitions that violate these rights.
• Collaborate with the Tibetan community to restore the demolished sites and statues with respect and in accordance to their spiritual leaders and traditional practices.
• Ensure that Tibetan children are able to access Tibetan language education at every stage of the curriculum and that there is no state interference or reprisals against schools and private tutors for teaching Tibetan culture and religion to Tibetan children.
• Immediately release all Tibetans who have been arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, imparting information, exercising their language, culture and religion, or who are otherwise in detention without having committed a recognisable offence.

Free Tibet urges international governments to:
• Acknowledge that Tibet is still under the occupation of China and is one of the least free countries on earth.
• Push China to allow for a prompt, impartial and full investigation into the destruction of religious and cultural sites in Drago County.
• Recognise the geopolitical significance of Tibet in Asia’s future and address Tibet’s status in all talks with China.
• Publicly issue strong statements of support for the right of Tibetans to free speech, to education and to the right to participate in, facilitate and promote their culture.
• Raise Tibet as a specific agenda item in all human rights discussions and other bilateral meetings with their Chinese counterparts.
• Coordinate efforts with like minded countries in calling on the Chinese government’s ongoing occupation of Tibet and its repressive policies in Tibetan areas.
• Push for open access to Tibet for diplomats, journalists and NGOs, including unimpeded movement within Tibet.
• Support Tibetans’ right to self-determination, including, but not limited to, pushing for the Chinese government to restart dialogue with Tibetan authorities in exile.

Free Tibet urges UN stakeholders and partners to:
• Urge the Chinese government to implement the recommendations detailed above based on its obligations under international human rights law.
• Push China to allow for a prompt, impartial and full investigation into the destruction of religious and cultural sites in Drago County.
• Urge the Chinese government to respect His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and cease attacks on him and to decriminalise the use of his image or mention of him inside Tibet.