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Monk imprisoned for hoisting Tibetan national flag released after four years imprisonment

Sonam Gonpo before imprisonment (L) and in prison uniform (R)
Sonam Gonpo before imprisonment (L) and in prison uniform (R)

A Tibetan monk has been released after serving four years in prison for hoisting Tibetan national flag and distributing leaflets in Wonpo (Ch: Wenbo) Township in Sershul (Ch: Shiqu) County, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.

Sonam Gonpo, 26, a monk from Wonpo Monastery, returned to his home on the night of 12 March 2016 after completing four years prison term. Another monk named Sonam Choedhar, also aged 26, had been sentenced to four years along with Sonam Gonpo, but he has not been released.

TCHRD earlier reported on the detention of Sonam Gonpo, who was arbitrarily detained by a group of Chinese police officers from his monastery on the morning of 12 December 2012. Another monk, Sonam Choedhar, a student of elementary school at the same monastery was also detained. Both monks were secretly detained without the knowledge of their family members for nine months. On 11 September 2013, both were sentenced to four years each for hoisting Tibetan flags and distributing posters in a local government school and imprisoned at Ra-nga Prison in Rongdrak (Ch: Danba) County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Sonam Choedhar before imprisonment (L) and in prison uniform (R)
Sonam Choedhar before imprisonment (L) and in prison uniform (R)

On 4 February 2012, local Tibetans pulled down a Chinese national flag from a government school building in Wonpo area, one day after three self-immolation protests took place in the region. Following this incident, a large number of Chinese police arrived and kept watch over the monastery for over a month. No detention took place during the entire month. However, on 7 September 2012, local Tibetans again pulled down a Chinese flag and hoisted a Tibetan flag on top of the school building. Leaflets calling for freedom were left scattered at the flag-raising site. This led to the deployment of more security personnel who arrived on the night of 15 September and put restrictions over the school and monastery and launched investigation into the matter.

Between 15 and 24 October 2012, Chinese security personnel detained around 27 local Tibetans including three monks namely Choedhar, Kyape and Lobsang Mindruk. On 9 September 2013, Choedhar was sentenced to one year in prison, while Kyape and Mindruk, though not sentenced, were deprived of political rights for four years. The three monks remained secretly detained for several months even after other detainees were released. On 12 December 2012, six more monks from the elementary school at Wonpo Monastery were secretly detained for months. They are identified as Sonam Gonpo, Sonam Choedhar, Lobsang Khedup, Lobsang Norbu, Lobsang Yignyen and Tenzin Gedun. There is no information on the rest of the monks. Choedhar was released after completing a year in prison.

Wonpo area has been under intense surveillance and restrictions since 2008 uprising. Monks at Wonpo Monastery had steadfastly refused to hoist Chinese flags on their monastery and the ensuing crackdown led to scores of arbitrary detention, arrest and unlawful searches of Tibetan homes by Chinese security personnel. Exile Tibetan sources also reported a suicide protest by a woman named Tri Lhamo, who died after security officers launched arbitrary raids at homes trampling upon pictures of the Dalai Lama.

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