Tibetan political prisoners denied family visits over ‘COVID concerns’

Authorities in western China’s Sichuan and Qinghai provinces are barring family visits for Tibetan prisoners held in political cases, citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, Tibetan sources say.

The restriction remains in force even though no cases of infection have been reported for more than a year in Sichuan’s Mianyang prison or the detention center in Minyak Yak-nga (in Chinese, Ya’an), a prefecture-size city in the western part of the province, a family member of two political prisoners said.

Prisoners in the past have been able to meet with relatives separated by a glass wall, and their families could bring in goods that had been inspected by prison authorities, RFA has learned.

“But now, family members are not allowed to meet their imprisoned relatives even while socially distanced, and families may not send in any clothes, food items or medicines,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“We have asked the authorities many times since 2020 to allow us to meet our relative held in Mianyang prison, but they have cited COVID prevention measures and given us no consideration,” the source said. “We had hoped at least to see him from a distance, but that request was also ignored, so we don’t know what our relative’s current condition is.”

Also speaking to RFA, a family member of a prisoner held in Yak-nga confirmed that many Tibetans have not been allowed to visit incarcerated family members in prison.

“My relative is a political prisoner who was arrested in May 2019 and sentenced to four years and six months in Minyak Yak-nga, but we have been able to meet him only once since he was put in jail. We are very worried about his overall condition,” he said.

Tibetan political prisoners are required to report to police on their activities for at least one to two years following their release from prison. In a program launched in 2014, the prisoners are given government-issued cell phones that track their movements and conversations, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force over 70 years ago. Tibetans protesting Beijing’s rule or promoting their national identity are frequently detained by Chinese authorities, with many handed long jail terms.

Language rights have become a particular focus of official concern, with informally organized Tibetan language courses typically deemed illegal associations and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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