Editor's Note: For a long time, prisons and inmates in Tibet have been a focal point in the Dalai clique and its western supporters' attack on China. Togive a true picture of the situation in Tibet's prisons, three correspondents of Xinhua News Agency, Duoqion, Cui Feng and Zha Xin, went to the prisons in Tibet and obtained lots of untold stories. Following is their report.
Nine in 10,000
There are three prisons in China's Tibet Autonomous Region: the Prison of Tibet Autonomous Region, Lhasa Prison and Bomi Prison. Established in 1960, the Prison of Tibet Autonomous Region is the largest and the only one permitted to keep women inmates in Tibet.
One of the prison in Tibet.
Losang Geleg, deputy head of the regional administration of prisons, says the inmates of the three jails total 2,300, accounting for merely 8.77 per 10 thousand of the region's total population. Among the inmates, 76 percent are Tibetans, 20 percent Han and the 4 percent other ethnic minorities. Women prisoners make up 3 percent. Some 60 percent of the inmates were convicted of property elated crimes such as theft, 30 percent of violent crimes and less than 5 percent of crimes against national security.
There are 600 policemen engaged in the management of these prisons, of whom 65 percent are Tibetans. As most of the inmates are Tibetan, Tibetan police officers have played a positive role in communicating with them in their transformation.
In Tibet, four groups of criminals cannot be imprisoned: pregnant women, breast-feeding women, severely disabled persons and those who are seriously ill. To take in a convicted, the prison requires to have four legal documents simultaneously, namely, the court verdict with legally binding force, a duplicated copy of indictment, a registration form to end the case, and a warrant of enforcement.
The prisons would rate the inmates according to their performances during the service, those who make special contributions would get better rating. With enough ratings the prison would apply for the courts to have the inmates' sentences reduced. According to Losang Geleg, 30 percent of inmates in Tibet get commutation every year. "Not one of the criminals reprieved from the death sentence has ever been executed," he says. "Once they show remorse or repentance they have a chance of getting their jail terms reduced."
Inmates enjoy 12 compulsory rights under the law, including the right to study, rest, appeal and impeach. These rights are written in detail in a handbook for prisoners which is issued to them upon their imprisonment. With that, says Losang Geleg, inmates can also supervise the police officers warding them.
All the three prisons offer courses on literature, mathematics, law and current affairs to inmates, who spend one day a week on the studies. The courses are conducted mainly in Tibetan. To enable inmates to be more competitive in job market after they are released, the prisons also offer them practical training on horticulture, knitting, and automobile maintenance and repair.
An average inmate's monthly food costs around 180 yuan (about US$21.69). With rice and flour as the staple food, prisons provide different menus to inmates of different ethnic minorities in respect with their customs.
When he was released from prison after serving his 8year term, Qungdag opened a teahouse in Lhasa, capital of Tibet.
"I was at a loss for a while, not knowing what to do," recalls the 40-year-old Tibetan. "Then I found the government encouraged decent private business, and so long as you abide by law, you would have green lights to start your own business from all the authorities, from commercial and taxation administration to public security."
Qungdag was convicted for having involved m violent revolts alleged to "split the country" in 1987. In running his business, he says, "I have confronted fierce competition in the market but no political discrimination. Nobody has ever despised me for my past crimes."
Qungdag's teahouse soon boomed and he used part of the profits to open the first shop in his hometown, Dapchi County, to make shopping more convenient for the local people. So far Qungdag has opened three shops that have a combined asset of 240,000 (US$28,915) yuan. Their daily sale volume totals 6,000 (US$720) to 7,000 (US$840) yuan.
The shrewd businessman attributes his success to the management experience he built up in jail. While at the Prison of the Tibet Autonomous Region, he was a member of the inmates mess committee which is in charge of the inmates' food supply. By overseeing the food budget and purchase of grain and vegetables, Qungdag became familiar with the price fluctuation and bookkeeping, as well as making budgets according to the changing market.
These experiences have helped sharpen Qungdag's sense for market, he says. His first shop in his hometown sells tea, butter, alcohol and cigarettes. When mechanized farm tools became popular, he added farming machinery to his operation scope. His expertise soon got the recognition when the township government of Deqen, where his first shop was located, invited him to invest in a share holding shopping center and be its general manager.
In retrospect, Qungdag says, "I have benefited a lot from the skills and managerial experience I learned in prison. More importantly, I realized it was stupid to have done what brought me into the prison."
"No one in this prison has died due to the want of medical treatment. What the Dalai clique has fabricated about the prison life in Tibet is untrue," says Rinzin, an inmate at the Prison of Tibet Autonomous Region. "We inmates are provided with good medical care. I myself have seen other sick inmates receive good medical treatment," he adds.
The prison has got its own clinic ever since it was set up, says Dawa Sangbo, the clinic chief. "All the 13 doctors and nurses in our clinic have received formal training and are able to handle various common disease and even conduct some operations," she says.
A physical checkup for inmates.
With a wide range of medical equipment and pharmacy stock of 300 kinds of commonly used medicines, the clinic receives an estimated 70-80 patients a day. "We offer a round-the-clock service to the inmates," says Basang, a nurse, while giving an inmate an injection.
'Take it easy," she says gently to the inmate as she rubs his right arm with a cotton swab. "It will be okay soon. There isn't much pain." Then she swiftly inserts the needle, pressing down the cotton swab and telling the patient to keep still.
She's busy taking care of the patient despite it's already lunch time. "It doesn't matter if I miss the lunch the patient must be treated immediately," she says. "Though they are serving their sentences here, they are human beings in my eyes and my duty is to guarantee their health."
Dainzin Jinme, an inmate who was diagnosed to have contracted lumbar tuberculosis 15 days after he entered the prison, recalls that he "sometimes felt pain in my waist before I was jailed. When the prison hospital diagnosed the problem, it sent me to the General Hospital of the Regional Chinese People's Liberation Army for better medical treatment and allowed my family to visit me. Over the past three years, the prison has spent 70,000 to 80,000 yuan on my treatment."
That is more than one third of the prison's annual medical budget or one tenth of what the prison hands over every year to local hospitals for treating more serious diseases, such as in Dainzin Jinme's case. The Lhasa and Bomi prisons also have their own clinics and each spends over one million yuan on treating inmates. For serious cases they are unable to handle, they also transfer the inmates to public hospitals for treatment.
Bazhaxi, another inmate in the Prison of Tibet Autonomous Region, once suddenly felt a stomachache around 3:00 am. Dawa Norbu, the warden on duty then, carried him on his back to the prison clinic. A doctor in the clinic gave him some pills and the pain was gradually quenched. "I fell asleep and slept soundly after taking the pills. But I learned later that Dawa Norbu stayed up looking after me all night through, without even taking a nap," recalls Bazhaxi. "We don't hesitate to wake up the warden when we are sick. It is common for the prison to spend thousands of yuan for our medical treatment."
While the inmates' medical expenses are completely covered by the prison, the wardens cannot have their own medical cost reimbursed. Sangjie, a police officer in the regional prison, spent 1,300 yuan on his medical treatment but only had 200 yuan, or less than one sixth of the expenditure, reimbursed.
Nevertheless, Wang Huadong, deputy warden of the regional prison, says the prison will guarantee that no inmate should die due to the lack of medical care, which is against the law. He admits that medical conditions on the "roof of the world" as a whole are not yet as desirable as in many other parts of China and the natural conditions are more challenging at this high altitude. "Yet improvement can be and is being made," he says.
One concrete step of that improvement is that the first prison hospital in Tibet has been built and will soon be opened to inmates. The general-purpose hospital is designed to improve medical conditions in Tibet's three prisons.
The hospital, covering 1.3 hectares just outside the Tibet Regional Prison, has physician, surgical, gynecological, infectious diseases, and physical therapy departments plus 60 beds. The hospital, a project of a 15-million-yuan (US$1.8 million) investment, also offers treatment in traditional Tibetan medicine.
Equipped with up-to-date medical apparatuses and 161 kinds of Tibetan medicine and over 400 kinds of western medicine, some 20 doctors have been recruited to work in the hospital. They will give round-the-clock care to inmates, says Ngoizhub, deputy director of the hospital. Several ambulances have been purchased to carry inmate patients between hospital and prison.
"Serious cases beyond the capacity of the three prisons' clinics will be handled here," says Ngoizhub. Medical treatment for inmates of the Tibet Regional Prison will be particularly convenient as the hospital is next door to it. The only feature distinguishing the hospital from its counterparts is that it is fenced off by high walls, topped with live wires. Its wards are equipped with iron bars and police guards are stationed on the premise.
Thanks to the prisons' efforts, "there is no single case involving accidental death of prisoners in Tibet," says Lu Bo, head warden of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Prison. "None of the 15 prisoners who died in the regional prison in the past five years died of neglect."
Medical records indicate that the 15 inmates, including two women, had suffered cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, which are difficult to cure. And the prison's efforts to save their lives were acknowledged by the relatives of the deceased.
Inmates Supervise Wardens
Gama Cering, an inmate in the regional prison, complained when he found the beef at the canteen was not fresh enough and demanded the prison return it. On that very day the prison authorities returned the beef and bought fresh one for the inmates canteen.
"I'm empowered to supervise the food supply provided by the prison authorities as a member of the inmates mess committee," says Gama Cering. "The grain, vegetable and non-staple foods of undesirable quality must be rejected."
Lunch at a prison ward.
Wang Huadong, deputy warden of the prison, says each of the 900 inmates is supplied with 20 kilograms of staple food, five kilograms of meat, 15 kilograms of vegetables, as well as tea and butter every month. Each ward in the regional prison has such committee composed of inmates watching the food quality for inmates everyday, seeing to it that the inmates not only have enough to eat but also have the meals well cooked, healthy and nourishing.
Zhaxi Dagar, another inmate convicted of deliberate homicide, says the inmates supervise not only food quality, but also routine prison management. "Ever since I entered the prison I was given a handbook for inmates, which tells us what rights we're entitled to in the prison, such as the rights to appeal, defend and indict, and the rights not to suffer physical punishment, humiliation and infringement of personal property," he recalls. "The prison authorities guarantee to honor us these rights and invite us to supervise their performance!"
Nyi'ma Qoizhoin, a 35-year-old female inmate who was convicted of "having involved in acts endangering the national security," says she was told that the regional prison "was horrible" before, and "conditions were extremely harsh for those convicted of jeopardizing state security." She had also assumed that female prisoners so convicted had to do heavy physical labor and suffer abuses and insults from male wardens.
"Yet my personal experience in prison is entirely different from those rumors," she says. "All the officers warding us are female. They are kind to us and often chat with me or give me magazines. They also encouraged me to attend the cultural courses offered by the prison."
Lobsang Geleg, deputy head of the regional administration of prisons, says, "although the inmates are convicted, they are human beings and their dignity must be respected and honored." There are cases in which a few prisoners deliberately make provocation and irritate some young wardens, who may curse back, admits the official. "This is nevertheless against our rule and upon receiving accusations against them, we would criticize these officers and ask them to apologize to the offended inmates. If the case is more serious, the officers in question will be disciplined."
Inmate Gepe says he has never suffered beating or abuse from wardens, nor has he heard of such a case from any other inmates. "We do no heavy labor here and what we do is mainly for the purpose of learning practical skills. If a guard forces us to do extra work, we can accuse him according to law."
Boxes for complaint letters are installed at every prison ward. Inmates may drop their letters directly into the boxes. The boxes will be opened regularly by the procuratorial departments. "I myself am under the supervision of inmates," says Lu Bo, head warden of the regional prison.
Prison Visit Day
Clad in prison uniform, Dawa Cering, leisurely sits in a chair and sips Tibetan buttered tea while chatting with his elder sister Migmar Cajoi through a glass wall, or patting her hand through a window.
It is a visit day at the regional prison when relatives of the prisoners are allowed to visit their folks who are serving terms at the prison once a month.
"Mine is not the best treatment," says Dawa Cering. "Many inmates who behave better are allowed to sit with their relatives on the grass and chat while drinking tea." He says the guards treat him well and show concern in his daily life. "We have enough to eat and have meat every day," says Dawa Cering, who also claims guards criticize inmates for wasting food.
The prisoners' band in performance.
Migmar Cajoi, Dawa Cering's elder sister, visits her brother once a month and has never heard of any torture in the jail. "All the other inmates' relatives I know have never complained about poor treatment in the jail," says Migmar.
"Each prisoner is entitled to receiving visits by relatives, according to law," says Wang Huadong, deputy warden of the prison. The normal visit days are on the 15th and 20th day of each month, but prisoners' relatives coming from afar will not be limited by the regulations and are allowed to meet their folks upon arrival, says Wang. Relatives would bring along food, books, daily necessities and clothing for their folks on these visits.
Gepe, a 36-year-old inmate who is serving 15 years of imprisonment for unintentional killing, has been commuted three times for his good performance. I'm in good health. Medical care is guaranteed here: inmates with ailments can get treatment right away, and prisoners who are seriously ill will be sent to major hospitals outside the prison," Gepe tells his visiting mother.
Dawa Gyaincain has received one reduction in his jail term for having strictly abided by the rules of the prison. He has just been given the opportunity to meet his relatives on the lawn not far from the visiting room. Before the meeting, Dawa Gyaincain had a haircut and had his face shaven, and is beaming with happiness.
"My relatives told me my family bought a new truck, built a new house of six rooms, and sunk a well last year when the courtyard was expanded," says Dawa Gyaincain. "I will hardly recognize my home upon my release."
While in prison, Dawa Gyaincain has learned something about the history of Tibet. "Hoodwinked by foreign radio broadcasts and rumors, I committed foolish acts endangering the state," he says. "I now fully understand that Tibet is an inseparable part of China and the development of Tibet would be impossible without the support of all people in the country."
College-educated inmate Wang Ming'an is one of the few intellectuals in the regional prison. Wang, from the neighboring Sichuan Province, now teaches inmates maths and reads extensively. "I do not have any other hobby except reading," says Wang. "The guards often buy me new books."
Qamba Lozhoi, aged 38, has two more years before his release. He talks a lot about plans on the outside whenever his elder brother visits. His brother hopes Qamba Lozhoi will find a stable job, but Qamba Lozhoi thinks differently. "I want a business of my own," he says. "I'm put in charge of daily work at the prison canteen and have accumulated some experience in business. I believe I can make a success of my future business. We have temporarily lost our freedom because of our crimes, nevertheless we have received respect here at the prison," Qamba Lozhoi says.
In the middle of a hot drumbeat comes the heavy-metal sound of an electric guitar, and a man singing in a harsh and magnetic voice over the loudspeaker.
But for the jail uniforms on the musicians, the audience could hardly tell it from a real concert given by a professional band. It is hard to believe, but these musicians are indeed inmates at the regional prison of Tibet.
The founder of the 12-member band is the 31year-old Feng Jun, a music major and graduate from Neijiang Normal College in southwest China's Sichuan Province. Feng was convicted of theft in Tibet in 1997, and he started the band with two members after he entered the jail.
"It occurred to me to set up a band as I found that quite a few music talents among the inmates here," Feng recalls. "So I applied to the warden for permission. They soon approved and provided us with a room and musical instruments."
Prisoners learn to appreciate poems and beauty.
Head warden Lu Bo explains his approval by saying that while the prisoners are here to serve the sentences for the crimes they committed, "we feel obligated to enliven their life in the prison."
As the "soul" of the band, Feng Jun is the composer, song writer and band conductor in one. "Our performances are popular among inmates and make them happy, as what we sing are based on our prison life," he says. He can never forget that the band's debut performance was to celebrate the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.
Since then the band has expanded to 12 members and has given over 30 performances, all to the inmates. With the special permission of the prison authorities, band members can spend all their time rehearsing except for attending cultural courses. But they must strictly follow prison rules regarding work and rest hours.
Liao Huabing, the bass player and vocalist, is a fervent music fan of a lot of singers and bands, including Tibetan singer Deqen Wangmo, Whitney Houston, and Dynasty, a rock 'n' roll band popular in China. "But my favorite is the Beatles of Britain," he says. While his relatives can mail music tapes to him, the prison guards are also willing to help get him the latest hits.
Tibetan inmate Dobgyai is a multi-talented band member: he is a drummer, dancer, singer and comedian. The others follow his style. "Our band might also be able to perform at major evening galas," he says. He and Feng Jun long to have a chance to perform outside the prison some day.
Feng Jun says all his friends are surprised that he could still play music in prison. "They all assumed that the prison must be depressing and gloomy. Through my music, I'll show them the true picture of the prison."
Prisons in Old Tibet
Basang Norbu, a Tibetan scholar in legal affairs, describes the judicial system of old Tibet as chaotic with serf owners detaining serfs at random, imposing cruel punishments on them and indiscriminately depriving them of their lives.
Instruments of torture in Tibetan prisons before the peacefal liberation of Tibet.
"In prisons during the Dalai Lama's reign, inmates were subjected to many cruel punishments," says Cedain Zhaxi, associate professor of Tibetan history with the University of Tibet, who is frequently invited to give lectures to prisons in Tibet. "Prisoners in old Tibet could have their eyes gorged out, noses cut off, feet hamstrung, or hearts ripped out. They could be thrown into scorpion pits or over steep precipices-things unheard of and unthinkable today. Prisons in old Tibet were living hell on earth."
Wang Xiaoruo, another scholar in Tibetan history, says under the feudal serfdom system in old Tibet, prisoners were often detained in the dim, dank basements at manors, temples or county government headquarters. Vipers and scorpions abounded and the lives of those imprisoned were at risk.
"Very few of those imprisoned were criminals in true sense," says Prof. Wang. "The overwhelming majority of the prisoners in old Tibet were innocent serfs thrown into prison for being unable to bear exorbitant taxes and levies. The death rate at the prisons in old Tibet was high, but the Dalai Lama turned a blind eye to it."
Up to 1959 when the centuries-old serfdom system was abolished, feudal lords, upper-class lamas and officials of the former Tibetan government, who made up only 5 percent of the Tibetan population, monopolized the law making and enforcement. "Such a system was designed to subjugate the serfs and gave serf-owners free rein to punish, torture or kill their serfs or household slaves," says Basang Norbu.
This is a striking contrast to prisons in Tibet today, says Cedain. "I have seen with my own eyes that today's prisons focus on reforming the thinking of inmates but at the same time guarantee their legitimate rights."
Moreover, says Basang, the laws and regulations are formulated by deputies elected to the people's congress and apply to all citizens. "Everybody is equal before the law," he says. "So the judicial system safeguards the fundamental interest of the majority of the people."