Gedun, monk and teacher of traditional monastic dance.

Gedun, monk and teacher of traditional monastic dance.

A Tibetan monk who told a gathering of students that Tibetans have no freedom of expression has been sentenced to four years in prison and accused of “doing great harm to society”. The Tibetan, Gedun, who is also a teacher of traditional monastic dance (Cham), was charged together with another monk, Jamphel Gyatso, with “the crime of incitement to split the state”, according to official Chinese information about the case obtained by ICT. Jamphel Gyatso (Chinese name: Jiahua Jiancuo) was sentenced to three years for speaking with Gedun on issues such as the Tibetan national flag and loyalty to the Dalai Lama – described as “a poisonous speech” in the sentencing document – to Tibetan students in Tsolho (Chinese: Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province (Amdo).

The arrest of 31-year old Gedun, a popular and influential figure in his local community, last year was reported by ICT (‘Tibetan monk imprisoned after talking about Tibetan culture’, April 7 2006) but official charges against him were not known until now. More than 20 monks, students and teachers were also detained in connection with Gedun’s case, although the others appear to have been released soon afterwards, with the exception of Jamphel Gyatso. At least one monk was reportedly severely beaten while in detention.

Gedun, a scholar of Buddhist doctrine and philosophy, was detained on 2 April 2005 after taking part in a gathering at a Hainan college at the beginning of December 2004. According to his official sentencing document, during the meeting Gedun (Chinese: Gengdeng) “expressed that the Tibetan people have low status and no freedom of expression”. He apparently said that Tibetans are not given any rights to help them develop as a nation, and lack the right to use their own language. During a gathering at the college attended by many Tibetan students, the court document stated that Gedun “later went up onto the platform and proceeded to explain the Tibetans’ national flag which he had drawn in chalk on the blackboard behind him. He said that under the rule of Han people, there were no rights and no freedoms, and that everything had been taken away from them”. According to the same document, “most of the students had not known that the drawing was the Tibetan people’s national flag”. Gedun apparently explained the meaning of each symbol of the Tibetan ‘snow lion’ flag and said that for everyone to be a true Tibetan they must help and respect the Dalai Lama.

Following his detention, Gedun’s family did not know of his whereabouts for some weeks and he was reportedly held for the first year in custody in different detention centers in the area. Gedun had been a Cham dance teacher at Yulung monastery in Tsigorthang (Xinghai) county since the late 1990s and had studied Buddhist doctrine and traditional Tibetan medicine at the Larung Gar religious institute in Serthar, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Kham). A Tibetan from the area who knows Gedun told ICT: “Gedun is a very educated monk, and very passionate in his views. He is a good teacher, and always talked about the importance of Buddhist practice.”

Gedun was accused during the trial of expressing his “opinions on Tibetan independence” to several students. According to the official sentencing document, dated December 6 2005, Gedun and Jamphel Gyatso “wantonly advocated the reactionary splittist opinion of ‘Tibetan independence'”. In his defence to the court in Xining, Gedun said that his speech was not ‘incitement’, but this was ignored, as the court concluded that “He damaged the unity of the ethnic groups and incited to split the nation…Investigations show that both defendants delivered reactionary splittist propaganda among young people, that the circumstances were serious and there was great harm done to society.” Gedun is due to be released on April 1, 2009.

According to the court document, the students present at the meeting had not expressed any views until Gedun spoke about the Tibetan national flag and the Dalai Lama, but after he did so “they each wanted to express their political ideas”. According to a witness whose testimony is summarized in the court document, Gedun then told the students: “We should completely believe the teachings of the Dalai Lama. The reason the Dalai Lama was exiled to India wasn’t out of fear of the Chinese, but to promote peace. I pray that all of my friends in this place will pay their respects to the Dalai Lama.” The court document adds that “everything in the speech” had been heard on Radio Free Asia.

Gedun’s fellow monk, Jamphel Gyamtso, 26, also from Tsigorthang (Xinghai) county in Hainan, Qinghai, was sentenced to three years until April 1, 2008. The court document, issued by the Xining City Intermediate People’s Procuratorate, states that at the time that Gedun was arrested, Jamphel Gyamtso had served two months of a three year ‘re-education through labor’ term for publishing and distributing ‘illegal printed materials’. Jamphel Gyamtso was formally arrested on April 29 2005 under the new charges. The sentencing document states that he delivered “a poisonous speech of reactionary propaganda” when speaking with Gendun at the school.

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