Labrang Jigme

Labrang Jigme

A senior Tibetan monk, Labrang Jigme, has been released from custody after six months of detention without charges following the involvement of two Chinese lawyers with his case. Li Fangping and Jiang Tianyong had recently become involved in investigating Labrang Jigme’s case due to fears about his welfare after he was seized from his monastery by armed police on November 4, 2008.

It was the third period of imprisonment for Labrang Jigme (also known as Jigme Guri and under the honorifics ‘Akhu’ Jigme and Lama Jigme), after he recorded a testimony of his earlier detention on a video later posted on YouTube in which he gave his full identity. According to a Tibetan source, Labrang Jigme has been freed under ‘qubao houshen’, meaning he could be taken into detention again if he violates restrictions imposed under the conditions of qubao houshen, which is usually imposed for a year. Typically, qubao houshen includes restrictions on movement, on who people meet, whom they communicate with, and sometimes includes subjective standards imposed by police, such as people’s ‘attitude’ towards their alleged crimes.

The prominent Tibetan writer, Woeser, said on her website yesterday: “Labrang Monastery’s Lama Jigme, having spent an entire half year in detention, was released on May 3rd and has returned home! .. Offer prayers for Lama Jigme, he has finally returned home and is near his close relatives, back to his monastery days, wish him a good rest and a speedy return to health!” (Translation from Chinese by High Peaks, Pure Earth).

Li Fangping, one of two lawyers who took up the monk’s case last month, told The London Times: “He was released partly because there was insufficient evidence. Even though he spoke about how he was tortured after the March 14 incident [in the video], this was insufficient to make a criminal case. He is now released on bail.” The lawyer added that Jigme had told them that he was “as well as could be expected”. According to the Times article, when the police told him that lawyers had come forward to help him, he said he wanted legal representation. Before the lawyers even had time to see him, he had been released.

It is the second Tibetan case taken up by Li Fangping and Jiang Tianyong. They are also defending a well-known and respected Tibetan lama called Phurbu Rinpoche in Kardze, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Kham) whose sentencing was deferred last month (ICT report, Verdict on Tibetan lama deferred: Chinese lawyers’ statement on charges against Phurbu Rinpoche).

Labrang Jigme, deputy director of his monastery’s ‘Democratic Management Committee’ and director of Labrang’s Vocational School, was taken from his monk’s quarters at Labrang, on November 4 last year by at least 70 armed police, according to Tibetan sources.

His detention appeared to be an attempt to silence him after he gave an authoritative account of his earlier detention on a video in which he shows his face and gives his full identity. Jigme had not taken part in the protests at Labrang on March 14 and 15, 2008, but the authorities suspected him of being a ring-leader. In a video account later posted onto YouTube, which is now subtitled in English, Jigme described how on March 22, while he was waiting on the street near his monastery for his shoes to be mended, he was dragged into a white van by four uniformed guards. He was taken to a guest-house run by local paramilitary police near Labrang, in Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) county, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province. Jigme’s account of his torture while in detention, which nearly led to his death, was broadcast on Voice of America after they obtained a copy of the video. Jigme’s testimony included details on prison conditions for monks from Labrang monastery that protested in front of a delegation of foreign journalists on April 10, 2008: “Monks who spoke to some reporters were beaten with batons and had their legs broken; on some, they used electric batons on their heads and in their mouths – the electric baton affected their brains and some have become disabled… driven to a type of insanity.”

After the video was released, Jigme went into hiding. It was only when he returned to Labrang that he was again detained and taken to detention in Lanzhou. No further details are known of his treatment during this recent period of custody.