New Delhi: Former Tibetan political prisoner and monk Jigme Gyatso — also known as Labrang Jigme — known for his resistance against the Chinese government in Tibet, died Saturday at his home in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in China’s Gansu province. He was 56.
The monk’s body has been kept at his parents’ house in Kanlho and is under high security monitoring, claimed a source in the Tibetan community in exile in India. The Chinese authorities are not allowing anyone to go near the body, the source added.
While the cause of Gyatso’s death is still unknown, reports have claimed that the monk had not been keeping well since his release from prison in 2016.
“Gyatso had suffered multiple illnesses while he was in prison. He didn’t get medical attention on time and had to be hospitalised two months after he was released. Blood had accumulated in his left eye when he came out,” said a student of the monk, who now lives in South India.
The student, a disciple of Gyatso since 1995, added, “To put it simply, the Chinese authorities killed him. They are responsible for his death.”
Echoing Gyatso’s disciple, Tsering Tsomo, executive director of the Dharamshala-based non-profit Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), alleged, “Jigme Gyatso died because he was repeatedly detained and tortured for crimes he did not commit”.
Known as a “defiant monk” from Labrang Monastery — one of Tibet’s largest monasteries — Gyatso became a popular figure in the Tibetan community in 2008, after he openly spoke about the allegedly inhuman treatment meted out to political prisoners in Tibet on live television, during an interview with Voice of America.
“In 2006, he had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India and returned to Tibet the same year. He was constantly monitored by the Chinese government since,” claimed the source quoted above.
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Gyatso was reportedly detained the very year that he returned to Tibet, in 2006, but was released following a month’s questioning.
He was again arrested in March 2008, for allegedly taking part in a region-wide demonstration against Chinese rule, and was held for a year, during which he was allegedly subjected to severe beatings.
In the interview with Voice of America the same year, Gyatso described how “he was suspended from the ceiling, while his interrogators beat him and told him he must confess”, leading him to lose consciousness for six days.
“They were forced to stand on the tips of their toes all night while guards beat them with the butts of their rifles”, a report by TCHRD has quoted him as saying.
Those speaking to the media “had their legs broken by baton, or were driven insane by the use of electric batons on their heads and in their mouths,” he had alleged.
Since then, he was detained multiple times for allegedly engaging in “splittist activities” — attempts to split the country.
In 2010, Gyatso was detained for six months in a hotel to undergo political “re-education”, allegedly without any formal charge.
Gyatso was arrested in August 2011 and after two years in September 2014, a court in Lanzhou found him “guilty of actions to split the nation” and sentenced him to five years in prison.
During the time, the Chinese government allegedly refused to provide any information about his whereabouts and well-being. His friends and family had claimed that the authorities were doing this because he had been denied medical care.
“He became a high-profile political prisoner after the arrest in 2011 with the charge of ‘splittist’. The authorities had earlier accused him of leading a 2008 uprising in Tibet,” said the India-based source quoted above.
Gyatso was released in October 2016 after a month’s delay, but remained under the close scrutiny of the Chinese government, which restricted his movement and his visits to the hospital. He was also allegedly told that he could not put on his monk’s robes or return to his former monastery in Labrang.
“His death is yet another example that torture remains rampant in Tibet, and yet China rarely carries out investigations into deaths caused by torture and fails to prosecute torturers, which in Jigme’s case are the local Chinese security officers,” claimed Tsomo.
Jigme’s death, she added, exposed the “false assertions” made by China that it has introduced reforms to improve detention conditions and prevent torture.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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