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<-Back to WTN Archives Longest serving Tibetan political prisoner Jigme Zangpo released (TIN)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Thursday, April 4, 2002

1. Longest serving Tibetan political prisoner Jigme Zangpo released (TIN)


TIN News Update / 3 April 2002 / ISSN: 1355-3313

Tanag Jigme Zangpo, the longest serving political prisoner in Tibet, was
released on Sunday (31 March) on medical parole and has been told by the
Chinese authorities that a request by him to seek medical treatment
outside the country would be "sympathetically considered". Seventy-six
year old Jigme Zangpo (Tanag is a family name), a former primary school
teacher, was first arrested in the 1960s and has spent most of the past
40 years in prison. His sentence was extended twice due to his political
activity in prison, including shouting "Free Tibet" during the visit of
a Swiss delegation to Drapchi (Tibet Autonomous Region Prison Number
One), in 1991. Jigme Zangpo was well-known as one of the most determined
and intransigent political prisoners in Drapchi, and was highly
respected by other political prisoners.

The authorities have reportedly made several offers of medical parole to
Jigme Zangpo over the past two years, with at least two groups of senior
officials sent to Drapchi to speak to him about the possibility. Reports
received by TIN suggest that because Jigme Zangpo was concerned that he
would be a burden for relatives if he was released and because he said
he had become accustomed to prison life, he continued to resist these
offers. He was also said to be unhappy with the authorities' emphasis on
him seeking medical treatment abroad rather than staying in Tibet. When
it was suggested recently that he could stay in Lhasa if he wished upon
his release, but that the authorities would also give "sympathetic
consideration" to an application he might make to leave the country, he
finally agreed that he would leave Drapchi. Jigme Zangpo, who is much
older than most political prisoners in China and Tibet who are granted
medical parole, is currently staying with a relative in Lhasa. His
release just eight years before the end of his long sentence follows
several years of campaigning by Tibet support groups and
non-governmental organisations worldwide. Western governments, notably
the Swiss and the US governments, have also raised his case with the
Chinese authorities on many occasions.

Jigme Zangpo, who is from Chushur (Chinese: Chushui) in the Lhasa area,
was first sentenced to three years of "re-education through labour" in
1965, because he had "subjected his students to corporal punishment",
according to Chinese official sources. Reliable reports received by TIN
indicate that he served a further ten-year sentence from 1970 onwards
for political activities. In 1983 he received a 15-year sentence and
five years deprivation of civil and political rights for "spreading and
inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda" after he had been seen
pasting a personally written wall poster at the gates of the Jokhang
temple in Lhasa on 12 July of that year. According to the trial and
sentencing document, the poster was a criticism of "the leadership of
our country", saying that: "Tibetans cannot be prosecuted for 1959
riots; demanding 'violent struggle'; and seeking 'Tibetan independence'
among other reactionary propaganda". This sentence was increased by five
years after he shouted "reactionary slogans" in Drapchi prison on 1
December 1988. The trial and sentencing document for this sentence
extension stated that: "The court, therefore, recognises that the
defendant Jigme Zangpo not only continued to carry out activities in
support of the reactionary elements but went further by spreading and
inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda during his imprisonment."

On 6 December 1991, Jigme Zangpo was reportedly beaten, held in solitary
confinement for six weeks, and his sentence extended by eight years for
shouting "Free Tibet" during a visit to Drapchi prison by the Swiss
ambassador to China. This extension increased his sentence to 28 years.
Following his involvement in protests at Drapchi prison on 1 and 4 May
1998, Jigme Zangpo was held in solitary confinement and, together with
almost all other political prisoners in Drapchi at the time, is likely
to have suffered from beatings and interrogation as a result. A former
Tibetan political prisoner told TIN that during the protests, Jigme
Zangpo had urged other political prisoners not to take part in violent
action during the protest. "He feared that we would do so because we
were angry," said the former prisoner.

There have been serious concerns for Jigme Zangpo's health for several
years. The Chinese authorities admitted in answer to a query from the
Beijing-based Swiss ambassador in September 1997 that he was suffering
from "hypertension" but was in "generally good health". They also told
the ambassador that Jigme Zangpo had been "excused from work duties" at
Drapchi. In 2000 the Chinese authorities admitted that Jigme Zangpo's
health had deteriorated and that he had received treatment for cardiac
disease. The Chinese authorities now say that he has "illnesses
associated with old age" but that these are "not life-threatening",
according to John Kamm of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation,
who was involved in negotiations for Jigme Zangpo's release.

Jigme Zangpo's release on medical parole is the second high-profile
release of a Tibetan political prisoner this year. Tibetan
ethnomusicologist Ngawang Choephel was released on medical parole and
arrived in the United States on 20 January after serving six years of an
18-year sentence for espionage. The release of Ngawang Choephel occurred
in the run-up to the February summit in Beijing between US President
George Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin. While Jigme Zangpo's
release coincides with the annual session of the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, it is unlikely to be linked to
this meeting, as the offer of medical parole was made to him much
earlier, and there is little pressure from either Europe or the US to
support a resolution at this year's Commission against China's human
rights record. Dui Hua Foundation Director John Kamm, who was also
involved in the negotiations for the release of Ngawang Choephel, told
TIN that Jigme Zangpo's release was: "another indication that the
Chinese government will eventually respond to international pressure."

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Longest serving Tibetan political prisoner Jigme Zangpo released (TIN)
  2. Dharamsala welcomes the release of TANAK JIGME SANGPO (Statement)
  4. Tibetan Women's Association welcomes the release of Tanak Jigme Sangpo.
  5. China Releases a Tibetan Held for 19 Years (NYT)
  6. China Prisoner Freed After 19 Years (AP)
  7. International Pressure: Holding China to Account (AWSJ)
  8. UK Tibet: Flashback to the Chinese 'deal' (BBC)
  9. Tibetans: Moving forward and Holding on (NG)

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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