Leading Tibetan businessman fights for life in prison as siblings seek to secure release

December 5, 2023
Turquoise Roof

Executive Summary

A leading Tibetan businessman serving a sentence of life imprisonment in Tibet was repeatedly tortured whilst in custody in Tibet due to charges that were reportedly fabricated against him and his brother by a top official in the Chinese Communist Party.

Dorje Tashi, 50, one of Tibet’s richest businessmen who had won multiple awards from the Chinese Communist Party, has provided the most detailed account of torture and interrogation known to have emerged from a Tibetan prisoner who is still incarcerated. As a member of Tibet’s wealthy super elite, Dorje Tashi’s case is a Tibetan ‘Red Roulette’ – similar to those of more well-known wealthy Chinese Party members such as businessman Desmond Shum who received death threats after revealing networks of wealth, power, corruption and vengeance in today’s China.

This report covers new aspects of the case, detailing:

  • The rejection of Dorje Tashi’s appeals despite Chinese lawyers’ legal opinions and the cursory treatment of the evidence, which supports the lawyer’s allegations that the appeals court and the Supervision Commission were acting under political instructions;
  • The glaring contradiction with a previous case involving Chinese defendants, who got shorter sentences, and the reported detention of a key witness until he gave evidence to suit the police;
  • Evidence from inside the prison and other Tibetan sources point to the existence of a specialist team or unit in Beijing of the feared ‘Guobao’ or secret police, who carried out the most severe torture;

The first 12 days of Dorje Tashi’s torture and interrogation occurred outside of official detention centres, believed to have been a military camp in Lhasa – a ‘black jail’. His mistreatment continued after transfer to an official detention centre, although here security personnel attempted to prevent the interrogation team from excessive brutality. International rights organisations have documented numerous cases of deaths following extreme torture in Tibet and China.

Fifteen years on, after exhausting official routes, Dorje Tashi’s siblings have turned to bold public appeals and advocacy to demand justice for their brother. Dorje Tashi’s elder sister Gonpo Kyi has staged sit-ins in front of the People’s Court in Lhasa and in July released a video message saying: “It is 2023 and I am still prohibited from writing a letter to my brother.”

In an open letter, Dorje Tashi’s older brother Dorje Tseten (Duoji Cidan) – who served six years in prison – gave a forensic account of how powerful officials have distorted the facts of the case to frame him.

Officials in Tibet have been accused before of fabricating serious criminal charges against Tibetans for little or no apparent reason, leading to lengthy sentences for several members of a family. Karma Samdrub, who was, like Dorje Tashi, one of the wealthiest Tibetan businessmen in China, received a 15-year sentence for an ‘unauthorised’ purchase 12 years earlier of an antique carpet from a shop in Xinjiang, also an inexplicably severe sentence for a minor offence.

Turquoise Roof has consulted more than 12 documents relating to Dorje Tashi’s case for this report, providing insights into the workings of the courts and lawyers in China. This includes eight statements by Dorje Tashi, his brother, or other family members; one court document; two statements by Chinese lawyers about the case, an interview with an informed Tibetan official, and interviews with several of Dorje Tashi’s relatives now living in exile.