What the glow of the night can tell us about Tibet’s dungeons

The Tibetan government is using preventative repression against the populace.

Detaining, punishing, and sentencing Tibetans for nonviolent protest and other acts of dissent such as aiding or supporting self-immolations and carrying portraits of the Dalai Lama is part of their nationwide’stability maintenance’ policy.

However, the Chinese Communist Party’s methods, nature, and scope of incarcerating and detaining Tibetans are little recognized.

The world community still knows very little about the Tibetan incarceration system, in stark contrast to what is known about the arrest and imprisonment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The absence of proof does not prove the absence of repression, particularly in regards to the so-called “vocational training centres” and incarceration via the criminal judicial system. Instead, it calls attention to the fact that further study is needed to fill in the blanks and provide a fuller picture of the issue.

This research sought to supplement the little data already available by using a novel approach, namely, analysis of lighting patterns at night, to provide more information on prisons and other detention centers in Tibet.

Satellite-based sensors assess nighttime lights every day, providing a time-series equilibrium estimate of power use. These monthly patterns in data may provide light on possible changes in the construction, development, or fall in usage of various detention facilities around Tibet, changes that may not be immediately apparent from overhead satellite images.

Resulting Facts

There are now at least 79 jails and detention centers in Tibet, and they can be found in almost every city and hamlet.

We started with data on 83 detention centers that was made accessible by the Tibet Research Project (TRP). We created a system for categorizing these installations by securitization degree and function using archived satellite images of these sites. We also omitted places that did not meet our criteria for a jail or detention center, narrowing our focus to 79 institutions.
The vast majority of them are thought to be modest, low-security detention centers that serve primarily in the roles of low-level incarceration and temporary imprisonment.

Informed on RAND’s previous study in Xinjiang and TRP’s underlying facility classification, we used publically accessible satellite data from Google Earth to establish a coding methodology to classify these 79 sites by degree of securitisation and purpose. Therefore, we classify the whole Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)’s infrastructure into four categories:
We estimate that most of the 79 institutions identified by TRP are tiny, low-security prisons. These facilities have a visual characteristic with the one pictured below, which has two watchtowers at opposite ends of a courtyard and few auxiliary buildings beyond the compound’s guarded area. Low-level detention and short-term jail-like services are presumably provided by these institutions throughout the TAR despite their tiny size, insufficient security (just two watchtowers), lack of supporting infrastructure, and frequently urban location.

News Desk

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