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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Symbol of Tibetan resistance addresses Council

June 7, 2008

Pamela Taylor
Human Right Tribune
June 5, 2008

Tibet's longest serving political prisoner and a symbol of resistance
to Chinese rule addressed the 8th session of the Human Rights Council
Wednesday (June 4). Despite spending 32 years in various prison
camps, 82-year old Takna Jigme Sangpo is far from being chastized by
this experiences.

Interview by Pamela Taylor/Human Rights Tribune ­ Takna Jigme Sangppo
was first arrested in 1964 when, as a primary school teacher, he was
accused by Chinese authorities of "corrupting the minds of children
with reactionary ideas." Accused of supporting Tibetan independence
he was repeatedly arrested, beaten and and tortured. He was released
on medical parole in 2002 and now lives in Switzerland.

Tell us about the first time you were arrested in 1964?

I was a teacher and they discovered I was teaching the history,
language and culture of Tibet which was of course forbidden. I was
sent to a work camp in Lhasa. While I was in this camp I was asked to
write a letter to the Communist Party condemning a long letter
written by the Panchen Lama (number two after the Dalai Lama) with a
detailed list of crimes against the Tibetan people and asking for
Tibetan independence. I told them they hadn’t given me sufficient
reason to condemn the Panchen Lama and so they called me a ‘running
dog of the Panachen Lama” and condemned me to hard labor for three years.

Were you released after that?

Yes, but this was the time of the non-violent underground movement
called Tiger-Dragon and a group of young people were arrested with a
photo of me on them so they came and arrested me as a member of this
"criminal" movement, which I was not. I was sentenced to 10 years in
prison. When I told the authorities that I didn't know anything about
the Tiger-Dragon movement, they didn't believe me and put me in a
type of iron brace that went behind my head and forced my arms back
and I couldn't move. I still have the scars (raises shirtsleeves). I
shall never forget that first night. I screamed and screamed. But I
wore that brace for 9 months ­ it was nearly impossible to eat. In
any case all I had to eat was one bowl of "tsamba" (roasted barley
wheat flour) and some tea once a day.

How long did this treatment go on?

For 7 years. I worked in a stone quarry, making bricks. For the last
three years of my ten year sentence I couldn't work because I had
gone blind. I was later diagnosed with glaucoma. But for them even a
blind man is supposed to work! In 1981 I was again released and my
sisters and family took me home and I was operated on for glaucoma.
But afterwards I suffered a kind of banishment, not quite arrest but
I had no communication with outsiders, even my family. But in 1983,
they put me in a real prison again for writing a poster that was put
up on walls and the gates of the city which said "Chinese invaders
must go back to China" and "Tibet belongs to Tibetans." Since I was
already in police custody, it was easy for them to put me in prison again.

But you must have known those posters would get you into trouble?

The Chinese have a tactic to make people think everything is normal
so they will relax but all the time they are watching and waiting for
the opportunity to make arrests. This time I was taken to a detention
center that wasn't a proper prison, just a large space with many men
in one room, sharing a tin can for a common toilet, and with barely
enough room to sleep. They constantly interrogated me, asking who had
put me up to writing the posters and who was behind my activities. I
said I am alone; I have no one and nothing behind me. They insisted
that I couldn't have the idea of Tibetan independence all on my own,
that there must be a huge movement behind me, driving me to do these
things. But I said no, that every Tibetan on this earth has that
dream. So they stripped me and beat me and I still have those scars
too. Then one day a Swiss delegation (ICRC) came to the detention
center so I kept a vigil until I saw the delegation coming and then I
began to shout: "Free Tibet!," "Chinese go back to China!" Afterwards
I was put in solitary confinement in a completely black hole for one
whole year. Because of what I did, they added another 8 years to my sentence.

How did you manage not to go mad after so many years in prison?

I said my prayers and the Buddhist mantra Om Mani Peme Hm (Homage to
Bhudda). I wasn't a criminal and wasn't a threat to anyone and I knew
that the truth was on my side. And the biggest truth of all was that
Tibet would one day be independent because the Chinese themselves
have enough problems to constantly worry about us. That kept me sane.

Why have you come to Geneva? What do you expect from the Council?

I want people to know that on paper the Chinese government may treat
Tibetan people alright but I am the reality. If I am given the
chance, I want to say that there's no way the Tibetan people can
survive without a distinct culture and that there is not a single
Tibetan who doesn't want independence.
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