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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Night-time lighting analysis shows China more busy at prisons, detention centres in Tibet

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(TibetanReview.net, Jul28’23) – Knowledge on China’s detention system in Tibet is still a black hole to the international community. The precise workings, nature, and scale of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to imprison and detain Tibetans continue to remain poorly understood, noted Rand Europe in a report Jul 27.

However, night-time lighting data which measured on a daily basis using satellite-based sensors, show increased activities at the higher detention and prison security facilities in Tibet, said Rand Europe in a report, “A night-time lighting analysis of Tibet’s prisons and detention centres,” released on Jul 27.

This study aimed to build on the scant available evidence and leveraged an innovative method — night-time lighting data — to shed light on the prisons and detention facilities in Tibet.

Measured on a daily basis using satellite-based sensors, night-time lighting data represent an equilibrium measure of electricity consumption at night at specific locations over time. Aggregated into monthly trends, these data can help illuminate potential changes in the construction, growth or decline in the use of specific detention facilities across Tibet that may not be visible using overhead satellite imagery alone, said Rand Europe.

In a statement Jul 27 on the report on its rand.org website, the study’s key findings have been listed thus:

Key Findings

  • There are at least 79 prisons and detention centres across Tibet.
  • The majority of these are assessed to be small, low-security detention centres which most likely provide low-level detention and short-term jail functions.
  • Almost all of these facilities were built before 2011, when Tibet’s former Party Secretary Chen Quanguo (also known as the architect of repression in Tibet and Xinjiang) came to power in Tibet. Although we cannot rule out the possibility that Chen may have repurposed existing facilities for political purposes upon his arrival.
  • At the aggregate level, the overall size and scale of the Tibetan detention system has been relatively consistent over the past decade.
  • Zooming in on individual facilities, however, we uncovered recent patterns of growth in night-time lighting concentrated in higher security facilities since 2019.
  • This trend may suggest a shift towards longer detentions and imprisonments and is similar to recent observations in Xinjiang too, where a high percentage of these facilities showed active growth in night-time lighting in 2019 and 2020.


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