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Tibetan former political prisoner dies after years of ill health following release from jail

April 18, 2019

Radio Free Asia, April 12, 2019 - A Tibetan monk jailed for five years for opposing Chinese propaganda campaigns conducted in his monastery has died after years of ill health he suffered following his release, Tibetan sources say.

Yeshe Thubten, a monk at Tibet’s Phenpo Nalanda monastery before his 1995 arrest, “passed away recently, though we are still unsure of the circumstances of his death,” a Tibetan living in India told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing contacts in Tibet.

“Anyway, it is not convenient to say much more about this,” RFA’s source Lhagyari Namgyal Dolkar said, using wording suggesting Thubten’s family members are under close surveillance by police. “It would not be appropriate to elaborate on this for fear of a backlash against surviving relatives.”

“We are sharing the news of his passing only so that Tibetans can pray for his departed soul,” Dolkar said.

Also speaking to RFA, Dawa Tashi, a Tibetan living in Australia, described Thubten as “patriotic, courageous, and loyal to this country and people.’

“His passing is a great loss,” he said.

Fearing repercussions from the police, Thubten’s family members and other relatives are not widely publicizing the former political prisoner’s death, Tashi said, adding, “Besides, details are difficult to obtain from Tibet due to restrictions and clampdowns on information.”

A resident of Lhundrub (in Chinese, Linzhou) county in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Thubten was taken into custody by Chinese police in March 1995 after protesting against “patriotic reeducation” campaigns carried out in his monastery by authorities, Dolkar told RFA.

He was held for two years at the Gutsa detention center in the regional capital Lhasa, “where he endured great hardship both physically and mentally during interrogation,” Dolkar said.

“After that he was sentenced to three years in jail and was transferred to Drapchi prison in Lhasa. And due to torture and malnourishment in detention, he became chronically ill after his release in about 2000,” he said.

Nun also dies

News of Thubten’s death follows a report of the death of a 51-year-old Tibetan nun and former political prisoner, Ngawang Tsomo, who died in Lhundrub county on Jan. 27 after her health began to fail last year.

Tsomo was arrested in 1993 and held at the Gutsa detention center after taking part in a peaceful protest calling for an end to Chinese rule in Tibet. She was then sentenced to seven years in jail and moved to Drapchi, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

She was released in 2000 after serving her full sentence, “but her time in jail took a serious toll on her health, and she became chronically ill due to the torture and suffering she endured while in detention,” one source said.

More time in jail

RFA has also recently confirmed that a veteran protester and political prisoner who had already served more than 20 years in prison was sentenced to a further 18 years in prison in late 2018 for a video protest he released through the Voice of America in January of that year.

Lodroe Gyatso, also known as Sogkar Lodroe, described his protest on Jan. 28 in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa as "a campaign for world peace" and said it was part of a long campaign of nonviolent Tibetan protests inspired by the teachings of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The 57-year-old Gyatso was immediately taken away police and the next day put in a prison in Sog county, his birthplace, local sources told RFA at the time.

Gyatso had previously been jailed for more than 20 years for homicide for killing a man in a fight and for engaging in political activism in prison. He was released in 2013, and jailed again in 2015 after another protest.

Commenting on his case on April 10, the International Campaign for Tibet called for Gyatso’s immediate and unconditional release, saying he was “imprisoned solely because of peacefully expressing his opinion.”

In a statement issued from ICT’s Washington office, the advocacy group also called for the release of Gyatso’s wife, Gakyi, who is also believed to be in police custody.

“Furthermore, the authorities must disclose the whereabouts of Lodoe and Gakyi and allow them to have access to legal representation and members of their family, as well as, if needed, appropriate medical care,” the ICT statement said.

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