Takna Jigme Sangpo

Takna Jigme Sangpo

Takna Jigme Sangpo, Tibet’s longest serving political prisoner, was released in Lhasa on March 31, 2002. The 73-year-old* Sangpo was reportedly released on medical parole and is currently staying in Lhasa with his niece, Tsering Palmo*, a retired teacher who had often visited Sangpo when he was in prison.

Sangpo’s release was expected for some time, particularly after Chinese government officials began to send signals to members of the U.S. Congress that they were prepared to let him out for medical treatment. However, the Chinese authorities said that Sangpo did not wish to be released. It is not known under what conditions Sangpo may not have wished to have been released, if at all.

“The International Campaign for Tibet welcomes the release of Takna Jigme Sangpo,” said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

“He represents the indomitable spirit of the Tibetan people and we hope that the Chinese authorities will not re-arrest him if he openly speaks with visitors,” Ackerly added.

“While the release of individual prisoners is vital, if China keeps arresting Tibetans to be used as bargaining chips, the cycle of human misery in Tibet will remain unchanged,” said Ackerly.

The Swiss government and the United States had taken an active interest in Sangpo’s case. In addition to the State Department, Congressman Tom Lantos was among those who took a lead on Sangpo’s behalf. During his visit to China in January this year, Lantos took up Sangpo’s case with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing.

In a statement upon hearing of Sangpo’s release, Lantos said, “I am grateful that the Chinese released Takna Jigme Sangpo from captivity on humanitarian grounds, and am relieved that the ailing Tibetan can enjoy his sunset years in freedom.”

“I urge the Chinese to make further progress in releasing political prisoners and restoring the human rights of its citizens,” Congressman Lantos said.

Sangpo’s release comes during annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. China’s treatment of the Tibetan people has been raised there by several governments that called for satisfactory autonomy and self-determination in Tibet. It also comes as the European Union’s Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, who is currently visiting China, called for the resumption of dialogue between the Chinese leadership and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Born in 1926, Takna 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 sent to labor 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.

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

In the official sentence paper, issued on November 30, 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 December 1, 1988, Takna was again prosecuted for raising “reactionary slogans” relating to Chinese suppression of Tibet while in Drapchi prison (also called the “Tibet Autonomous Region” Prison). He was once again found guilty of “spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda,” and his sentence was increased by five years and the deprivation of his civil and political rights was extended by another year.

On April 4, 1992, Sangpo received an additional eight-year sentence extension and a subsequent three-year extension on the deprivation of his civil and political rights. This brought his current sentence to a total of 28 years.

Had his sentenced been carried to term to September 2011, Sangpo would have spent 41 years in prison.

*Note: earlier reports had listed Sangpo’s age as 76 and his neice as Pema Chozom; the new information is from an April 5 interview with Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service