I am extremely happy today because of my good fortune to be able to meet representatives of Tibet Support Groups from more than fifty countries, who have shown deep concern for the fate of Tibet and the Tibetan people. I would like to extend my warm greetings to all of you who have gathered here.
Since 127 BC when Tibet?s first king, Nyatri Tsenpo, ascended to the throne, Tibet has existed as an independent nation for 2130 years. However, the People?s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Tibet became part of China during the 13th century when Tibet established Choyon or a priest-patron relationship with the Yuan Mongol rulers of China and Tibet. In the past not only Tibet has continuously resisted the ingenious designs of the Chinese but successive Tibetan rulers, since the foundation of Gaden Phodrang government three centuries ago in Tibet in 1642, have resisted and opposed Manchu influence and intrusions in Tibet. History is testimony to the fact that, with the expulsion of Manchu Amban from Lhasa, the Great 13th Dalai Lamadeclared Tibet?s independence to the world in 1913. Tibet?s neighbouring countries, particularly Russia and British India are well aware of this declaration of Tibetan independence.
Unlike other minority nationalities under PRC rule, Tibet had all the attributes of independent statehood recognised under international law: a defined territory, a population inhabiting the territory, a head of state, a government, a judicial system, army, government offices, banks, prisons and the palaces of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Moving on to my personal experiences, my name is Takna Jigme Sangpo and I am a former-political prisoner of Tibet. I am an old man today. When I was 37 years old, the Chinese authorities detained and imprisoned me for three years for the remarks that I had made about the 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet, which they said were “counter-revolutionary views”. At that time I was teaching Tibetan and mathematics at a lower middle school in Lhasa. In 1970 while I was undergoing “reform through labour” I was accused of preaching counter revolutionary views to two young Tibetans, a boy and a girl, and was imprisoned for 10 years along with them. The boy prisoner was executed and the girl died in Sangyip prison.
On July 12, 1983 I was accused of propagating counter-revolutionary ideas when I pasted leaflets denouncing China?s illegal occupation of Tibet and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. I was again sentenced in 1988 and my prison term was increased for five more years, because while in prison I supported the 1987 and 1988 pro-independence demonstrations by the Tibetan people in Lhasa. My prison term was further increased for ten more years in 1992 when I shouted at an anti-Chinese demonstration in front of a Swiss human rights delegation visiting the Drapchi prison on December 6th, 1991. All in all I was sentenced to 41 years of imprisonment, out of which I have still nine years to complete. That sentence has not been revoked, only suspended.
Despite the guarantees of protection in China’s constitution and her obligations to various international human rights instruments, I was imprisoned because I carried out a non-violent struggle to defend the legitimate rights of six million Tibetan people.
During the more than three decades of a political prisoner?s life, I was tortured both physically and mentally. The tortures went beyond human imagination and my dignity as a human being was humiliated and crushed.
My physical appearance today is proof of the immense suffering that I have endured and what the people of Tibet are enduring right now. The Chinese authorities identified me as a criminal who must suffer for life and die in prison. That is how I lost the best part of my life. I never thought I will leave the prison alive. But due to my fate I some how survived – unlike the thousands of Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for our just cause. The execution of Lobsang Dhondup in eastern Tibet on January 26, 2003 is another example of the gravity of the human rights violations taking place in Tibet. When I was in prison, we were forced to read a lot of propaganda documents like China?s White Papers on Tibet. These documents routinely deny allegations about prison conditions in Tibet and portray prisons as luxury hotels. But let me give you a few examples of what life is like in prison.
Violating international human rights obligations and law I was sentenced three times. It was only at the end of 1983 that I heard about the judicial process and I was the first person who experienced these so-called judicial procedures. Although during the trial there were four so-called lawyers, my fellow prisoners and I were not allowed to prove our innocence. Due to the inhuman manner in which I was treated and because of the interrogation and torture I lost consciousness twice. I still have the torture marks.
Prisoners? hands and legs were shackled and they were regularly kept in dark solitary confinement in a small room with only a small window from where the Chinese prison authorities passed in prison food. Drapchi Prison?s block 10 has twenty-four such dark cells for confinement. Similarly, there are three detention centres in Lhasa and a few dark cells for solitary confinement in prisons in Meldro Gongkar.
The torture instruments the Chinese used on me, such as handcuffs are said to be the products of a factory built during the Japanese occupation of China. When the Chinese used these self-tightening handcuffs on me, my hands got damaged. I still have bruise marks caused by the pressure of those handcuffs. These handcuffs constrict the veins so the blood cannot flow and the hands swell painfully. While I was in the United States, I showed these torture marks to the media persons and again to participants at the conference of the Swiss Tibet Friendship Association.
My fellow prisoner Jampa Soepa, son of Kopon Nyipa?s daughter, became insane due to the sufferings he had to undergo in prison. His hands and legs were shackled and the Chinese forced him to do hard labour for months. He is still in Lhasa. He is now 40 years old but he was only 20 years of age when the Chinese first imprisoned him.
In Lhasa?s Sangyip prison, prisoners were forced to do hard menial work and provided such small quantities of food that they were forced to eat stones and sand. Even today, prisoners are forced to do hard labour. Except occasional wheat, prisoners are only provided tsampa with boiled vegetable as food. A slightly positive thing is that the Chinese give butter churned tea two times in the morning. Due to such poor prison conditions and food, a lot of prisoners became weak and died. My bedmate in the prison, 40 year old Tsondue Gyalpo from Kham Nangchen died due to starvation.
From 1965 to 1979, the allocation of prison budget was very poor and uncertain. We did not hear about human rights. Until 1997, prisoners were allocated a monthly budget of 35 Chinese yuan which is not sufficient for firewood, food grains, cooking oil and vegetables. As a result prisoners had to suffer a lot for their survival. For instance, a prisoner is provided one shirt and a pair of trousers a year for the summer and one woolen shirt and trousers every three years and a blanket every five years in winter. Prisoners are not provided underwear. Consequently, prisoners from far-flung areas of Tibet suffer a lot during winter as they wear in appropriate clothes. In western countries, because of respect for human rights, prisoners are provided good food and clothes.
Tibetan prisoners have never heard of human rights – they do not get enough food to fill thei stomachs and not enough warm clothes during winter. Leave alone prisoners, only two or three prison authorities have heard about human rights. However, since 1997 there has been a steady improvement in prison food, with every prisoner being provided 80 Chinese yuan a month.
I was denied proper medical attention and competent legal representation throughout my imprisonment. For instance, while I was doing hard labour my feet got wounded by the stones. As a result I could not walk and had to drag myself. Despite this I was not provided medical treatment and had to remain in bed. From 1975 onwards due to hard labour, the atrocities inflicted on me and other prevalent harsh conditions I lost my eyesight. It was only in 1981 when I was “prisoner in the society” that I got an operation done with financial help from my relatives and some sight was restore in my left eye. I had to wait longer for getting the sight back in my right eye which happened in August 2002 when I was operated upon in Switzerland.
Many of my fellow prisoners died in custody or were executed. Shol Dawa and Sonam Rinchen, two of my inmates, died in prison in January and November 2000 respectively because they were denied medical treatment. On September 19, 1993 a few of my fellow prisoners and I were incarcerated in an old prison and our prayer beads and cassettes of prayers were confiscated. At that time ten prisoners, including Drepung monk Ngawang Phuljung and I demanded from Paljor, a prison official that our prayer beads and cassettes be returned asserting that we had the right to keep them with us in prison. We also asked him why the Chinese government was not putting into practice the freedom of religion and the right to keep cassettes for disseminating information as mentioned and propagated in China?s ‘White Papers’. The Tibetan prison official told us that it was senior Chinese officials who had ordered him not allow us to keep these things. He also told us not to hassle him by arguing with him. Drepung monk Jampel Monlam, who was the leader of our cell was also present at that time. He is presently working at the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India, and can be a witness to all I have stated here.
The Chinese communist?s propaganda to the outside world appears attractive. But my own experience which I have shared with you show that the reality is contrary to what they are propagating to the world.
My fellow prisoner Sangye Tenphel, a 19-year-old monk from Khangmar Monastery was tortured to death on June 4, 1997. On May 1 and 4, 1998 following two protests in Drapchi Prison, two monks – Ngawang Sungrab and Ngawang Dorjee – were severely wounded after the Chinese prison guards shot them. Monks Lobsang Wangchuk and Khedup never returned alive to their cells after torture sessions whereas monk Lobsang Choephel died under mysterious circumstances. The prison guards also killed five nuns. Besides, the Chinese increased the prison term of more than twenty prisoners.
Torture and degrading treatment, inhuman interrogation, solitary confinement, forced labour and indoctrination sessions are commonly used by Chinese authorities in Tibet?s prisons. One of the Tibetan prisoners wounded due to Chinese torture at that time, Phuntsok Wangchuk alias Drupthok, has recently arrived in Dharamsala, India. he too will be able to tell you all of the inhuman conditions in the prison.
Two prisoners, Sonam Tsewang and Tingka, have since 1999 been confined to small dark cells in Drapchi Prison?s Block 10 because they had raised slogans about forced labour conditions in prison during the October 7, 1997 visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Commission on Human Rights to the Prison. I remain deeply concerned about their fate because I too was once confined in such torture cells between 2001 and February 2002. I would like to state here that the assurance given to the Working Group by the Chinese authorities at that time was completely false – Sonam Tsewang and Tingka are still suffering in Drapchi prison.
I would like to wholeheartedly thank various international Tibet Support Groups for putting pressure on the Chinese leaders and showing solidarity with the sufferings of the Tibetan people and providing every support to the Tibetan cause. I would also like to thank governments and NGOs who urged the Chinese authorities to release me and other Tibetan political prisoners. With all their support, I was released on March 31, 2002 with a medical parole and later allowed to travel to the United States. I arrived in Switzerland on August 14 to receive full medical treatment. I wish to once again thank the people and governments of Switzerland and America for allowing me to live in freedom and dignity. Of course, it is my hope that one day I will be able to also live in freedom in my homeland.
At the moment there are so many Tibetan prisoners being kept in dark cells of Drapchi Prison. They include young Tibetans like Sonam Tsewang, Tingka; elderly Tibetans Amdo Jigmey Gyatso and Phuntsok Wangdue, who are sentenced to 15 and 14 years of imprisonment respectively; Lobsang Namgyal, who has been arrested thrice and sentenced to 6 years of imprisonment; and women prisoners like Nyima Chodon. I urge all the members of this conference to press for the immediate release of these prisoners.
According to me, the current problems in Tibet that need to be addressed immediately include the increasing number of Chinese settlers. This is something which is threatening to lead to the very extinction of the Tibetan race. Manipulation and enticing young Tibetan girls to China should also be addressed. There are also increasing number of women prisoners, with tales of bearing illegitimate children because Tibetan parents hand over their daughters to the police when they discover that there have been involved in prostitution.
Tibetan language is constantly humiliated and treated with contempt. Names in the registration books of so-called Tibet Autonomous Region?s offices are written in Chinese. Writing in Tibetan has become dangerous and so the language is rarely used.
It is so astonishing to see China?s conspiracy to create a Great Han China by exterminating minority nationalities, including Tibet. This strategy is presently being carried out in Tibet, with Tibetans becoming a minority in their own land like the Manchus in Manchuria. Due to such imminent threat, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet?s political and religious leader, and an apostle of world peace and non-violence, has urged the international community to put pressure on China to grant Tibet genuine autonomy. His Holiness has considered both the Tibetan people?s inalienable rights and China?s blatant distortion of Tibetan history to resolve the long standing issue of Tibet in the interest of both the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. Thus, I believe His Holiness the Dalai Lama?s appeal to western countries to resolve the long-standing issue of Tibet must bear fruitful result. However, I request you all to initiate campaigns and urge your respective governments and parliaments to recognise the Tibetan Government-in-Exile as the legitimate representative of Tibet – as declared in the European Parliament Resolution of July 6, 2002 – if China continues its present policy of buying time and dragging its feet on the Tibet issue. Finally, I pray for your good health and an end to the suffering of all political prisoners in the world.