U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) has urged the Chinese authorities to release a prominent Tibetan political prisoner, Tanak Jigme Sangpo. Lantos, who is on a four-day visit to China told journalists in Beijing on January 9, 2002 that he raised the case of Sangpo as well as Chinese political prisoners as part of his commitment to carry on his human rights fight. Lantos met with Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing and other officials during his trip.

Lantos told journalists that China’s “outstanding” cooperation with the United States in the war on terror had brought relations to a “higher plateau,” but warned Beijing will use the war to crackdown on domestic dissent and “achieve their narrower objectives.”

Reuters and AFP quoted Lantos as saying, “Time will tell whether the war on terror will allow for the legitimate political expression and the legitimate expression for human rights in which the government will agree.”

“As we applaud China’s cooperation, we are suggesting to them that cooperation would get far more public support from the United States if they would get rid of the uglier aspects of Chinese society,” he said.

In an open letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Lantos also urged the release of Liu Yaping, a US permanent resident jailed in Inner Mongolia, as well as Jigme Sangpo, jailed for his beliefs in Tibet since 1983, and democracy activist Xu Wenli, jailed for all but two years since 1982.

Born 1926, Tanak Jigme Sangpo was reportedly first arrested in 1960 while teaching at Lhasa Primary School and charged with `corrupting the minds of children with reactionary ideas’. In 1964 he was sentenced to three years imprisonment in Sangyip Prison over comments regarding Chinese repression of Tibetans, and was then sent to labour camp in Lhasa. In 1970 he was sentenced to ten years hard labor in Sangyip Prison on charges of inciting his niece to escape to India to report Chinese atrocities to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Tanak Jigme Sangpo was released from prison in 1979 and transferred to the Reform-Through-Labour Unit 1 in Nyethang, 60 kilometers west of Lhasa, but was arrested again on 3 September 1983 by the Lhasa City Public Security Bureau.

In the official sentence paper, issued on 30 November 1983, the Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court noted that the defendant had evidently never seriously re-considered his past “counter-revolutionary crimes”. He was therefore charged with “spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda” and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in addition to five years deprivation of civil and political rights. On 1 December 1988, Tanak was again prosecuted for raising “reactionary slogans” relating to Chinese suppression of Tibet whilst in Drapchi prison (also called the “Tibet Autonomous Region” Prison). Found once more guilty of “spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda”, his sentence was increased by five years and the period of deprivation of civil and political rights extended a further year.

Tanak was subsequently sentenced on 4 April 1992 to a further eight years imprisonment, and an additional three years deprivation of civil and political rights. This brings his current sentence to 28 years and by the time he is released on 3 September 2011 at the age of 85, he shall have spent 41 years in prison.