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Former Tibetan political prisoner sentenced to 18 years for protest; wife given 2 years for filming video

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) expresses deep concerns over the condition and whereabouts of a former political prisoner and his wife who had been secretly sentenced to 18 years and two years respectively in Sog (Ch: Suo) County, Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, the Tibetan province of Kham.

Information received by TCHRD indicates that Lodoe Gyatso, 57, and his wife Gakyi had been sentenced in secret sometime in 2018 after Gyatso was arbitrarily detained in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa for staging a peaceful solo protest against Chinese government.

As reported earlier by TCHRD, prior to the protest on 28 January 2018, Gyatso had recorded a video announcing his ‘campaign for world peace’ and the solo protest that was filmed by Gakyi. The video made its way to the outside world through social media platforms and was circulated widely by exile Tibetans.

The information about the couple’s secret sentencing became available to sources inside Tibet sometime in November 2018 although the exact date and charges remain unknown. Family members and relatives have no information about their current place of detention or their condition.

Based on available information, it can be confirmed that Gyatso has been held in secret, incommunicado detention since January 2018. The exact date for Gakyi’s detention cannot be immediately confirmed although she too was detained incommunicado and subsequently imprisoned for two years.

Punished for Political Activism

Gyatso has a long record of speaking truth to power inside and outside prison.   Known for his extraordinary courage in taking on the powers-that-be, he had his initial 15-year ‘intentional homicide’ sentence extended to 21 years after he led a large-scale prisoners’ protest against Chinese rule in Tibet while still imprisoned in the notorious Drapchi prison. In May 2016, three years after his release from prison, he was detained for protesting the expulsion of monks and nuns from religious institutions located in Tibetan areas outside TAR. In 2015, he had openly criticised the local Chinese authorities for forcing Tibetans to perform songs and dances on the founding day of the People’s Liberation Army wearing tiger and leopard fur-trimmed chupa (traditional Tibetan dress). In the 1.38-minute video that he shot with Gakyi’s help, he was seen wearing a simple white and black Chupa defiantly praising His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision of making Tibet a ‘zone of peace’ and the ‘Middle Way Approach’ of resolving the Tibet issue. He goes on to talk about the importance of Buddhist principles of interdependence and non-violence before announcing the launch of his ‘campaign for world peace’.

TCHRD believes that Gyatso and Gakyi were unfairly punished for making and sharing the aforementioned video and the protest that followed later in front of the Potala Palace. The right to freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and many other human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that China has ratified. These treaties protect all forms of expression including “political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching and religious discourse”.  Article 19 (1) of the ICCPR protects the right to hold any forms of opinion “including, but not limited to, opinions of a political, scientific, historic, moral or religious nature.” In particular the right to freedom of opinion cannot be made subject to lawful derogation even in times of emergency.

“The Chinese authorities must release Lodoe Gyatso and Gakyi from arbitrary detention immediately and unconditionally. They must disclose truthful information about the events that led to their illegal imprisonment and hold accountable officials guilty of subjecting Gyatso and Gakyi to arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, and unfair sentencing,” said Tsering Tsomo, executive director of TCHRD. “The blanket of secrecy surrounding this case is shocking and deeply distressing when a peaceful activist is given such a heavy sentence simply for expressing his opinion.”

Background

Lodoe Gyatso is a native of Sogkhar village in Tsadhog Township, Sog County. He is known locally for his strong sense of political convictions and deep pride in his identity and culture. His family consists of his wife, mother, five sisters, and one younger brother. Before he was imprisoned, he used to be a dance artist and a three-time weight lifting champion in his hometown.

On 20 April 1994, the Nagchu Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Gyatso to 15 years in prison for killing a driver named Gayoel in legitimate self-defense. On 17 January 1993, Gayoel had killed Gyatso’s sister Lharik in a car accident following which Gyatso sued Gayoel for murder. The court decided the case in favor of Gayoel who was known to be pro-Chinese and passed the verdict of ‘not guilty’. Later in the same year, the two men met in the village market and a fight broke out between the two. After Gayoel missed two shots to kill Gyatso, the latter stabbed Gayoel in self-defence. Gayoel died later in a hospital.

While serving his 15-yr sentence in Drapchi prison, Gyatso led a protest on 4 March 1995 against the Chinese authorities by holding a demonstration along the blocks of the prison compound. Along with other prisoners, he shouted slogans such as “Tibet is independent!” “China should leave Tibet!” “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama” “Six million Tibetans are united!” At the same time, he distributed handwritten pamphlets and hung posters that had political messages and prayers for the Dalai Lama. Consequently, he was tortured and interrogated for over a month but he refused to confess following which he was put on a starvation diet as punishment. Subsequently, prison officials and ‘re-education through labor committee’ officials requested the procuratorate to execute Gyatso. In April 1995, while the Intermediate People’s Court was awaiting the approval of the TAR Higher People’s Court, the news of Gyatso’s impending execution was smuggled out by fellow inmates and attracted international attraction. On 18 May 1995, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions transmitted an urgent appeal to the Chinese government. The Chinese government responded that there was no “execution sentence” but added that “while in prison, [Gyatso] did not attempt to change his ways but engaged in subversive and separatist activities” due to which his initial 15-yr sentence was extended by additional six years and stripped of political rights for three years. On 2 May 2013, Gyatso was released after completing his sentence at Drapchi prison and later at Chushur prison near Lhasa.

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