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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."

A talk with Tsering Samdup, an ex-political prisoner

July 10, 2009

08/07/2009 Dharamshala:

I got acquainted with Samdup at Tibetan language class in LIT (Live Ideas
for Tibet) center, where he tried to teach me some basics of Tibetan. That
time I didn't know that till 1994 he was a monk in Tibet, then joined a
demonstation in front of the Jokhang monastery in Lhasa to get six years of

"We all [four protesters] were very young then: I was 19, my friend was 16,"
recalled Samdup, "there were 200 monks in our monastery but Chinese kicked
out 160 of us," he said grimly. According to his words, after six minutes
the demonstartion was broken off by twelve policemen in uniform and several
in civilian, who started beating them with anything they could including
electric batons. In Gutsa Detention Center the arrested were removed of
their clothes, put in some kind of a greenhouse for several hours and then
sent to separate cells. After four months of detension they all were
sentenced to imprisonment, notwithstanding that according to Chinese
criminal law a person could be imprisoned starting from the age of 18 only.
"There wasn't any trial actually," argued Samdup, "we couldn't get any
lawyer and the judge only read out our charges," he said.

In Drapchi Prison, the main sentence place for political prisoners, Samdup
worked at a small vegetable greenhouse patch. After a month of hard labour
the criminal prisoners sold the rare vegetation that managed to sprout for
10 000 Chinese yuan. The quota for big greenhouse patches constituted 20 000
Chinese yuan. It is quite understandable that prisoners never managed to
make a quota and were punished.

When the idea of vegetable gardens was finally rejected, the prisoners had
had to undergo military exercises that lasted from nine o'clock in the
morning till six o'clock in the evening with a break for two daily meals - a
breakfast that consisted of one small tingmo (steamed bread) accompanied by
black tea and dinner that included rotten vegetables "fitting animals not
people," as Samdup stated. At that the guards constantly insisted that
prisoners changed their minds, gave up the idea of a free Tibet and
recognized themselves as Chinese citizens, which, according to Samdup, he
couldn't do because he knew that it was only a propaganda without any word
of truth.

After the uprising of prisoners in 1998 the rules in Drapchi became even
more constricted: the prisoners couldn't leave their cells and underwent
regular interrogations, which meant beating and torture. "They beat me and
when I had wounds in my body they put electric prods in them; I was tied up
and couldn't move; they mocked me about my freedom and beat me, then they
dragged me to the stairs, pushed down after which I lost my consciousness,"
Soamdup recalled one of such meetings.

During three months after the riot, according to Samdup's words, all
political prisoners were harshly beaten, so that nine of them were beaten to
death, some of them lost their mind, some got severe brain damages.
According to Chinese jurisdiction, if a prisoner is undergoing a terminal
illness, he or she is released before the term comes to an end, that's why
lots of political prisoners died already after they were released and their
relatives couldn't suit the police officially.

Another painful procedure that Samdup underwent in prison was extraction of
spinal fluid, "which by Chinese is considered to be an empowering liquid
that can help to conquer their enemies," as the ex-political prisoner

At the day of Samdup's release he was given a document proving his
unfavourable status. For three years he was left without any other ID and
any political rights: "I was a farmer before enrolling into the monastery
but Chinese took my land, so I had nowhere to go," Samdup recalled. After
the release he had had to stay in the place of his birth, which was equal to
a new kind of torture: like all political prisoners he had lots of problems
with his health but couldn't get a proper treatment neither in his village,
where there were no qualified doctors, neither in Lhasa, where he was banned
to go.
Striving with unemployment, Samdup finally got a good job - together with
his friends he opened an eatery, yet the enterprise didn't last long. "One
day the police came and turned everything upside down and told me to close
it or sell it," Samdup said bitterly, "then they pressed me to sell it for
4000 yuan though I bought it for 9000," he remarked.

Yet soon there came an end to his misfortunes in Tibet. The flee to India
through the Himalayas proved hard - "lots of people die in the snows or are
shot by police" but it was rewarded by a refugee status, a meeting with the
Dalai Lama and a possibility to bring into the issue of a "Free Tibet" here,
in Dharamsala: now Samdup works in LIT, teaching Tibetan language, providing
cooking classes, and sharing ideas on Tibet with foreigners.
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