A new cell-block has been built at Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi prison to hold prisoners receiving stricter-than-normal punishment, according to a new report from the Tibet Information Network (TIN). According to the TIN report, recently-released elderly political prisoner and former schoolteacher Takna Jigme Sangpo was held in the block for most of his last eight months of detention due to a protest he made at Drapchi in August 2001.

The full text of TIN’s August 16 report follows below

A new cell-block has been built at the Tibet Autonomous Region Prison Number One, Drapchi, to hold prisoners undergoing stricter punishment than the normal regime and new male arrivals. Tagna Jigme Zangpo, the elderly school-teacher who served a total of 32 years in prison before his release on medical parole in March, was held in the block for most of his last eight months of detention as a result of a protest he made at Drapchi in August 2001.

Conditions in the block, known as “Tsonkhul” (Detention Area) Nine, are the harshest in the prison, and inmates held there include two Tibetan criminal prisoners, Tringa and Sonam Tsewang, who were involved in political protests during and after the visit of a United Nations delegation to Drapchi prison in Lhasa in October 1997. Tagna Jigme Zangpo, who was allowed to leave Tibet for medical treatment in July and who arrived in Switzerland yesterday, told TIN that prisoners are transferred to the block for punishment if they do not give satisfactory responses during “political investigation” sessions. “They hold them there for between six months and one year to break their spirit,” he said.

Tagna Jigme Zangpo, who was first arrested in 1965, was transferred to Detention Area Nine after he staged a noisy one-man protest in August 2001 from within his cell in Detention Area Eight, formerly known as “New Rukhag (unit or brigade) Five”. Tagna Jigme Zangpo was imprisoned for the third time in September 1983, after having already served 13 years in labour camps, and transferred to Drapchi two years later. His sentence was extended for one-man demonstrations carried out in 1987 and 1991. In August 2001 he began shouting through the bars of his cell, “Why are you punishing me? I haven’t done anything!” “May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!” “Tibet is independent!” and “May Tibet be independent for 10,000 years!” After his outburst he was transferred to one of the two-person cells that are a feature of Detention Area Nine. Throughout his imprisonment there, a Tibetan criminal prisoner was placed in the cell to act as a monitor.

Detention Area Nine, which appears to have become operational in late summer 2000, has a total of 24 cells. One is used as a storeroom, two are for solitary confinement, and 21 are two-person cells. The two-person cells measure roughly three by three metres. Approximately 30 prisoners are reportedly held in Detention Area Nine at any one time. While some are new arrivals to the prison, the majority, including criminal prisoners, are reportedly undergoing the strict regime in Detention Area Nine as punishment. Prisoners in Detention Area Nine are reportedly not allowed to do any work. A tiny walled courtyard adjoins each cell in the block. Prisoners under the most severely restricted regime are not given access to that space or allowed any activity or exercise outside their cells. Other prisoners are allowed access to Detention Area Nine’s main courtyard that can be used for exercising or jogging. All cells are poorly ventilated; a hole was knocked into the wall of Tagna Jigme Zangpo’s cell as a concession to his age and poor health and to ease the suffering caused by his respiratory problems.

The inner door is left unlocked in some cells, but not others, preventing some prisoners from being able to access the light switch and darken their cells at night.

Prisoners in Detention Area Nine

Tringa and Sonam Tsewang, the two Tibetans involved in protests associated with the visit of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to Drapchi prison on 11 October 1997, were confined to Area Nine in November 2000. They were still being held there when Tagna Jigme Zangpo was released on medical parole to the custody of a relative in Lhasa on 31 March 2002. Tringa, Sonam Tsewang, and a third Tibetan criminal prisoner, Wangdu, were all given extensions of at least three years to their prison sentences following their involvement in the protests connected to the visit.

Tringa and Sonam Tsewang were each confined in a two-person cell, and were kept confined to those cells. Wangdu is reportedly not being held in Detention Area Nine because he had “accepted his crime”. Lodroe Gyatso, a 37-year old member of a dance troupe who was serving a 15-year sentence in Drapchi prison for murder,

and whose sentence was extended by six years after he took part in a prison protest in 1995, was also reportedly confined to Detention Area Nine in November 2000.

Karma Sonam, another criminal prisoner who took part in a political protest at Drapchi in May 1998, was also confined to Detention Area Nine soon after it opened.

The sentence of Karma Sonam, from Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) in Sichuan province, was reportedly extended after he was involved in initiating a major protest by prisoners at Drapchi on 1 May 1998. Karma Sonam was one of two prisoners to begin the protest by shouting slogans such as “Free Tibet” and “Long live the Dalai Lama” at a flag-raising ceremony convened by the prison authorities.

Two monks, Ngawang Nyima and Ngawang Sungrab, were also transferred to Detention Area Nine in spring 2001 for giving unsatisfactory responses during political investigation sessions, the periodic examinations carried out in prisons to assess whether political prisoners are reforming their political views to comply with those demanded by the authorities. Ngawang Sungrab, a Drepung monk in his mid-thirties from Lhundrub county in Lhasa municipality, was shot and wounded in the abdomen by a prison guard following a protest at the prison on 4 May 1998. Ngawang Sungrab, whose lay name is Dawa Tsering and who was serving a ten-year sentence, was shot by security personnel stationed at the prison when he was among a group of prisoners who rushed towards some prison gates after the demonstration. Ngawang Sungrab’s sentence was extended following the protests in May 1998, and he is reportedly being held in Detention Area Nine for failing to give an acceptable account of his progress in reforming his political views. Ngawang Nyima, a monk from Pema, the county seat of Pashoe county in Chamdo prefecture (Chinese: Changdu), TAR, was also reportedly being kept confined to a cell in Detention Area Nine at the time when Tagna Jigme Zangpo was released from Drapchi.