“We appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to exercise his mandate in engagement with the Chinese government to secure the immediate release of Jigme Gyatso on medical grounds.” said Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.
Jigme Gyatso, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk, is serving 18 years in prison for ”counter-revolution” and “inciting splittism.” According to new information from Tibetan sources, Gyatso is in extremely poor health and being isolated from other prisoners. Gyatso was also denied family visits on three occasions in the last few months although he was allowed a visit once before the end of the year.
On November 27, 2005, then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr Manfred Nowak met Jigme Gyatso during an official visit to Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) prison near Lhasa.
Nowak subsequently called for his release. On March 10, 2006 the UN Human Rights Council published a report about his visit published that said: “Since he [Jigme Gyatso] has been convicted of a political crime, possibly on the basis of information extracted by torture, the Special Rapporteur appeals to the [Chinese] Government that he be released.”
Jigme Gyatso was hospitalized early in 2006 and was unable to walk properly due to an injury apparently incurred through torture. (ICT report, including a translation from Chinese of Jigme Gyatso’s original sentencing document: Fears for welfare of Tibetan prisoner following meeting with UN Rapporteur).
According to a December 30, 2010 news report from the Tibetan government in exile, Jigme Gyatso’s “survival is at stake due to his debilitating health condition.” (http://www.tibet.net).
Forty-five year old Jigme Gyatso, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk from Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on November 23, 1996 for “leading a counter-revolutionary organisation”, according to the official sentencing document in Chinese, a copy of which was obtained by ICT. Jigme Gyatso told the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that he had received a two-year sentence extension in May 2004 after shouting pro-Dalai Lama slogans while in Drapchi Prison, Lhasa. But the Dui Hua Foundation, a US-based human rights advocacy organization, was subsequently informed by official sources that the sentence extension was three years, giving a new release date for Jigme Gyatso of March 30, 2014.
Jigme Gyatso received the longest sentence of a group of five Tibetans who carried out various acts of peaceful resistance, including putting up a Tibetan national flag at Ganden monastery and discussing Tibetan independence. The sentencing document issued by the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court makes it clear that Jigme Gyatso was regarded by the Chinese authorities as the ring-leader. At the time of his arrest in March 1996, he was running a restaurant in Lhasa after leaving Ganden monastery.
During his imprisonment, Jigme Gyatso has endured severe torture on several occasions, including one incident in 1997 when he was beaten so severely that he could not move for several days. He told the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that conditions were much worse at the prison where he is currently held, Chushur, than at Drapchi (Tibet Autonomous Region Prison). He said that at Drapchi the food was better, the cells were better lit and ventilated, and the temperatures inside were not as extreme in summers and winters.
Jigme Gyatso became a monk at the age of 21 at Labrang Tashikhyil Monastery in Gansu province and later transferred to Ganden Monastery in Lhasa. In the mid-1980s, he visited India and studied for some months at Drepung Monastery in south India.
Following his return to Tibet, he was first detained in March 1996 under suspicion of political activities, and held at Gutsa detention center in Lhasa prior to sentencing. A friend of Jigme Gyatso’s who is now in exile told ICT: “Jigme Gyatso was severely tortured at Gutsa. He was held in a dark room, separate to about 17 other Tibetans who were detained at the same time. He was kept in heavy shackles.” The same Tibetan source said that during his initial detention, Jigme Gyatso managed to smuggle out a letter to a comrade saying that he was likely to receive a long prison sentence, but that he had no regrets. He referred to the 10th Panchen Lama’s long prison sentence and others who had served terms in jail for freedom, including the South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela. When prison officials discovered that he had sent this letter, Jigme Gyatso was beaten.
In September 1997, security personnel from his home area came to interrogate him and tortured him so severely that he was reportedly unable to move for several days. He also endured torture together with all other political prisoners in Drapchi, following protests coinciding with the visit of a European Union delegation of Beijing-based ambassadors from three different European countries to the prison in May 1998. Jigme Gyatso reportedly sustained head wounds during the beatings in the aftermath of the protests on May 1 and 4 1998.
Jigme Gyatso’s sentence extension was imposed after an incident in March 2004 in which he yelled out, “Long live the Dalai Lama,” for which he was kicked and beaten, including with electric batons. The report of the UN Rapporteur on Torture states: “The electric batons were used on his back and chest with painful effect, and ceased once the Chief of Police came and stopped it.”
Dr Nowak was the first official international observer to visit the prison where Jigme Gyatso and other Tibetan political prisoners are held in Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) county, near Nyethang (Chinese: Nidang), off the road leading south from Lhasa towards Shigatse, where some Tibetan political prisoners have been transferred. Dr Nowak noted that in this prison as well as the others he visited in Tibet and China there is “a palpable level of fear and self-censorship.”
Jigme Gyatso’s case was one of those raised to the Chinese authorities during a visit by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s visit to Lhasa in September 2004. The Working Group has stated that Jigme Gyatso’s case was that of arbitrary detention in violation of articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whereby “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, that is, to associate, assemble and demonstrate peacefully.”