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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibetan political prisoner, Runggye Adak, freed from Chinese prison after 8 years

August 3, 2015

New York Times, August 1, 2015 - A Tibetan man who was imprisoned for eight years after calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet at a popular festival has been released, according to overseas Tibet advocacy groups.

The man, Runggye Adak, is a former nomad and father of 11 who since his imprisonment had become an important symbol to Tibetans of resistance to restrictive official policies in Tibetan areas of western China.

Exile groups said that Mr. Runggye Adak, who is believed to be 60 or 61, was released Friday from a prison in Sichuan Province, far from the high grasslands of his home county, Litang, where in 2007 he had publicly called for the return of the Dalai Lama, the 80-year-old spiritual leader of the Tibetans who is reviled by China’s leaders.

Mr. Runggye Adak did that at the Litang Horse Festival, a well-known event that once drew thousands of nomads, Buddhist monks, nuns, pilgrims and tourists to Litang every August. Since Mr. Runggye Adak’s protest, and a widespread Tibetan uprising in 2008, officials have canceled the festival every year.

It was canceled again this summer, after people in the area and in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, protested the death of another prominent Tibetan political prisoner, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65. Mr. Tenzin Delek, who was from the Litang area and was one of the most prominent Tibetan religious leaders in prison, died last month under mysterious circumstances while serving a life sentence for “terrorism and inciting separatism.” He was arrested in 2002.

The authorities quickly cremated Mr. Tenzin Delek’s body rather than turn it over to relatives to perform traditional Buddhist funeral rites. Security officials also detained a sister and a niece of the deceased rinpoche, according to Students for a Free Tibet, which is based overseas. The group said Saturday that the two women were released late Thursday.

China’s security clampdown in the vast Tibetan areas increased greatly after the 2008 unrest and has continued at a severe level since then. The intervening years have seen more than 140 self-immolations by Tibetans, most of them intended as protests against what most Tibetans call the occupation of their homeland.

Though the Litang Horse Festival has not been held since 2007, a few similar events are held on the Tibetan plateau with official approval. One, a three-day horse festival organized by the local government of the Tibetan area of Gyegudo, known in Chinese as Yushu, ended Monday. Officials said the festival in Gyegudo, which has been rebuilt since a 2010 earthquake, had been put on to show the outside world the culture of Kham, the region of eastern Tibet that includes Litang.

Days before the festival, a young monk, Sonam Topgyal, set himself on fire in the middle of Gyegudo.

At the last Litang Horse Festival, in 2007, Mr. Runggye Adak, the former nomad, said in a speech to a large crowd that the Dalai Lama was the one person Tibetans truly needed. He also said that “although we can move our bodies, we cannot express what is in our hearts,” according to a translation by the International Campaign for Tibet. Chinese officials generally do not tolerate public displays of the Dalai Lama’s picture, let alone speeches calling for his return.

On Friday, Mr. Runggye Adak was taken straight to his home in Litang by the authorities, having completed his eight-year prison sentence, according to a report by the International Campaign for Tibet, based in Washington.

Last year, Mr. Runggye Adak carried out a 33-day hunger strike in prison to protest the authorities’ treatment of political prisoners, according to two Tibetans living in India, including Lobsang Jamyang, a monk who is Mr. Runggye Adak’s eldest son. Mr. Runggye Adak was taken to a hospital after his hunger strike, Mr. Lobsang Jamyang said last year in an interview.

Mr. Runggye Adak was held in Mianyang Prison, which is north of Chengdu, in low-lying hills that were the site of the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008. As of 2010, there were 42 Tibetan prisoners in that prison, according to Adig Tseten, a member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, and a relative of Mr. Runggye Adak.

Some of those 42 prisoners have since been released, but others are still being held. Mr. Adig Tseten said there had consistently been 40 or more Tibetan prisoners in Mianyang for years.

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