Dolma Kyab

Dolma Kyab, following his release from prison last week.

Tibetan writer Dolma Kyab was released from prison on October 8 after serving ten years and six months for ‘endangering national security’ for an unpublished book.

Dolma Kyab, who is 39, was released from Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) Prison in Lhasa on Thursday and taken back to his home town in the Tibetan area of Amdo, where he was welcomed by family and friends and draped with khatags (white blessing scarves).

Dolma Kyab, a well educated young Tibetan who did post-graduate study in Beijing and is highly respected among his peers, was arrested on March 9, 2005 in Lhasa, where he was teaching history at a middle school. He was tried in secret, and is believed to have been sentenced because of the ideas expressed on Tibet in his unpublished manuscript, written in Chinese and entitled ‘The Restless Himalayas’. A group of well-known Tibetan and Chinese writers wrote a letter calling for his release, but he served his full ten and a half year sentence prior to his release last week.

According to a friend from the same home town, his family is concerned about his health, and plan to take him for medical treatment as soon as possible.

Dolma Kyab, who is from Droklung in Dola (Chinese, Qilian) county, Tsojang (Chinese: Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, studied history and geography at Qinghai Normal University and graduated in 1999, doing postgraduate studies at Beijing University until 2002. The manuscript of his book is mostly written by hand in neat Chinese characters.

In November 2003, Dolma Kyab left Tibet to travel into exile, and studied English and Hindi in Dharamsala, India, base of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile government. While in exile, he worked on his manuscript, which includes chapters on Tibet history and geography, Tibetan sovereignty, democracy, and religious belief. His manuscript begins with an emotional account of his love for his parents and country, and refers to his spiritual beliefs: “I grew up in the cradle of my nation. I saw my people live in a higher place in this world. But when I lay on the ground to watch the world, I cried. Those tears were a reasonable response to what was happening in the world. I grew up with the love of my parents. When my parents’ foreheads were creased with love, I cried. These were tears of emotion. Therefore I decided that I would do something for my nation and people like my parents. I know that doing things, even contributing one’s life to the cause of a nation, raises very difficult questions. I would rather use my words to talk to other people than be an example to lead other people.”

In the book, he reflects with sadness on the current situation but also with deep pride in his Tibetan identity, saying: “My countless Tibetan brothers and sisters: We live in a time of national devastation. We have weathered countless years of darkness, countless dark nights. The spectre-like undying soul of the nation of Tibet wanders throughout every corner of this land. And over the course of these countless dark nights, a number of souls have ceased to breathe. Others have come alive. […] Only as we stand atop the Himalayas can we gain a clear view of this situation. For this all occurs at altitudes between 2,500 to 4,500 meters: the snow line–a frigid region. This is a geographically unique place in the world. And in this geographically unique place resides a unique people. These people have developed a unique culture. These people are us – Tibetans.”[1]

A Tibetan in exile who was at a school run by the Tibetan exile authorities with Dolma Kyab in India said: “Dolma Kyab always had a lot of good ideas. He wasn’t known as a sporty person – when we played basketball he didn’t join in – but he loved to discuss philosophy and culture, and he had serious things to say. He made a huge sacrifice that is fully understood and appreciated by my generation of Tibetans.”

A Tibetan from his home town who is now in Dharamsala, India, said that his ‘crime’ was to write his book, as well as an article entitled “A Letter Addressed to All Tibetan Brothers”, Radio Free Asia reported. In the article, he had written, “There is no reason to fear. Don’t shed tears. We will certainly be victorious.” (Radio Free Asia, October 9).

Dolma Kyab also writes in philosophical terms about the concept of Tibetan identity, and the Tibetan peoples’ wish for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. He explores the relationship between Chinese and Tibetans, saying that the reason for the ‘political burden’ suffered by Tibetans, is the way in which the Chinese “impose their way of thinking onto Tibetans”, thus “destroying the concept the Tibetans have of themselves”. The manuscript of his book also refers to Chinese and Tibetan friends who are dear to him; he had strong friendships with young Chinese intellectuals as well as Tibetans.

A Tibetan friend of Dolma Kyab, who is now living in exile in India and is also a former political prisoner, said: “Dolma Kyab’s main motivation in writing his book was to express the opinions of Tibetan youth on many different issues relating to Tibet today, for instance – what they think about Tibet’s history, culture, human rights, democracy, literature, and so on. Dolma Kyab felt a strong responsibility to convey these ideas to a wider audience. He is someone who is very connected to the views of educated young Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile.”

Dolma Kyab also knows Japanese, as well as Chinese and Tibetan, and is believed to have improved his English language while in prison. In 2009, Human Rights Watch awarded him their prestigious Hellman/Hammett prize for writers in recognition of his commitment to free expression and courage in the face of political persecution.

The Chinese state has long been aware of artistic expression as a means of influence both in the interests of the Party and against it, and the authorities in Tibetan areas seek to undermine the popularity and influence of writers and bloggers. They not only focus on seeking to eliminate collective action such as protests or demonstrations, but also on attempting to circumscribe or shut down online civil society where Tibetans discuss ideas. No target is too small or too marginal to be worthy of scrutiny in the ‘battleground’ of public opinion and political authority.[2]

Dolma Kyab is believed to have served his sentence in Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) Prison in Lhasa, on the road to Shigatse (Chinese: Rigaze). When the UN Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak became the first international observer to visit the prison in 2006, Dolma Kyab was removed and hidden from him.

Extracts from Dolma Kyab’s book are translated by the literary website High Peaks Pure Earth and in the ICT publication, ‘Like Gold That Fears no Fire: New Writing from Tibet.’

[1] Translation by High Peaks, Pure Earth, which has translated different sections of the book:

[2] An article published by the People’s Liberation Army Daily on May 12 stated: “Since ancient times, those who won people’s minds won all under heaven. Now, the main battleground to contend for people’s minds has shifted towards the Internet.” Translated into English by China Copyright and Media, edited by Rogier Creemers: – See ICT report, ‘The Teeth of the Storm: Lack of Freedom of Expression and Cultural Resilience in Tibet’: