[The Sunday Times]
By Nicola Smith and Lhakpa Kyizom, Dharamsala Published: 8 June 2014
Sonam Rabga says the beatings have left him with kidney failure
A TIBETAN monk has revealed how he was beaten and tortured in a Chinese jail amid signs of a relentless clampdown by Beijing on the restless region.
Sonam Rabga, 42, was arrested when he travelled to his homeland from India, where he had been studying, to visit his mother in 2012.
He was detained in Chamdo, Tibet’s third-largest city, where he was accused by his interrogators of being a “separatist” and told he was going to be killed.
“My cell was a small windowless room, yellowish in colour, where there was a latrine in one corner, with a CCTV in the top corner,” said Rabga. “My bed was a plank of wood with a thin mattress and blanket and a dirty pillow.”
The words “save me” had been scratched onto the wall with fingernails, he said.
“From the second day I was tortured,” he added. “The worst was when my hands and legs were tied on a wooden chair with my neck leaning forward and they put a couple of thick mattresses on it. When my head dropped down they would hit me on the forehead with a baton.”
Rabga said he frequently vomited and bled from his mouth and nose. At one point he was beaten so badly that his whole body was swollen and he could not wear his clothes.
“They would tell me I am on China’s soil and they own the land and the sky. They said they could do what they wanted, even kill me.
“In my cell I used to think about the Buddhist philosophy of tolerance, forgiveness and compassion. This helped to ease my pain and I guess that’s how I survived.”
Rabga fled to India after his release and arrived recently in Dharamsala, the Himalayan town that has become the seat of Tibet’s government in exile since the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950.
He was initially reluctant to describe his ordeal for fear of the consequences for his family, but decided to break his silence after doctors told him he may die from kidney failure caused by the torture unless he finds a donor.
China has crushed hopes of any softening of its attitude towards Tibet. The foreign ministry last week dismissed any possibility of renewed talks with the exiled government, branding its prime minister, Lobsang Sangay, a “separatist” who has “never done anything good”.
President Barack Obama and other western leaders have called on the Chinese to resume talks on autonomy with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader. Beijing considers Tibet an integral part of Chinese territory.
According to a 2013 US State Department report, China has imposed “severe repression” on Tibet’s religious, cultural and linguistic heritage. It said human rights abuses included “extra-judicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests”.
Golog Jigme, a Tibetan film maker, last week described how he had also been arrested three times and tortured twice for making documentaries about what was happening in Tibet.
“A powerful light was directed towards my face for extended periods and as a result my skin burnt and now my eyesight is poor,” he said.
Dhondup Wangchen, who directed one of the films Jigme helped make, was released last Thursday after a six-year sentence for “separatism”, served mainly in labour camps.