China Frees Frail Tibetan in Prison for Activism
ANDREW JACOBS, NY Times: A Tibetan activist whose long, harsh detention by Chinese authorities drew international scrutiny has been freed after serving 17 years in prison, exile groups reported on Tuesday.
The activist, Jigme Gyatso, 52, who returned to his hometown in China’s northwest Gansu Province on Monday, was said to be extremely frail after years of torture and poor medical care, according to Radio Free Asia and the exiled Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India.
“He was limping and reported having heart problems and high blood pressure,” a friend, Jamyang Tsultrim, told Radio Free Asia. “His vision was also weak.”
A former monk, Jigme Gyatso was first given a 15-year sentence for “leading a counterrevolutionary organization” after he and a group of friends secretly advocated Tibetan independence. The crimes he was accused of by a Chinese court in 1996 included distributing pro-independence leaflets and hanging a banned Tibetan flag at the Ganden monastery near Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Although the Chinese government has jailed hundreds of Tibetans for political crimes, Jigme Gyatso’s case drew global attention after the authorities let Manfred Nowak, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, speak to him in 2005 in prison. In his report, Mr. Nowak urged officials to release
Jigme Gyatso and cited the widespread use of electric batons, exposure to extreme temperatures and sleep deprivation in Chinese prisons.
The authorities added three years to Jigme Gyatso’s sentence after he joined other inmates in shouting out the name of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader, as a delegation from the European Union toured their prison in 2004. According to Amnesty International, prison guards later retaliated by severely beating Jigme Gyatso and killing nine inmates.
In the end, prison officials shaved one year off his 18-year sentence, a gesture of leniency often granted to inmates in failing health.
Tashi Phuntsok, a spokesman for the Central Tibetan Administration, expressed relief at the release. But he also said the current spate of self-immolation protests among Tibetans demonstrated the failure of Beijing’s heavy-handed policies.
“It shows that even if you disappear and detain people, you cannot subjugate the spirit of the Tibetan people,” he said.