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Story of Tanak Jigme Sangpo

Tanak Jigme Sangpo, Tibet’s longest serving political prisoner, was reportedly released on medical parole on March 31, 2002, after serving more than three decades in prison.

The 76-year-old Tanak Jigme Sangpo was first reportedly arrested in 1960 while teaching at the Lhasa Primary School on charges of “corrupting the minds of children with reactionary ideas.” In 1964 he received a second sentence, where he served three years in Sangyip Prison for making comments regarding Chinese repression of Tibetans.

Tanak Jigme was again sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in Sangyip Prison for ‘counter-revolutionary’ propaganda in 1970. He had been caught attempting to send a document reporting Chinese atrocities to His Holiness the Dalai Lama via his niece, who was trying to flee Tibet. At the age of 53 Tanak Jigme was released from prison in 1979 and transferred to the ‘reform-through-labour’ Unit No 1 in Nyethang, 60 km west of Lhasa.

Tanak Jigme was re-arrested on 3 September 1983for pasting a ‘personally written’ wall-poster protesting against Chinese authority on the main gate of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, and sentenced him on 24 November 1983 to 15 years imprisonment for “spreading and inciting counterrevolutionary propaganda,” and five years deprivation of political rights. On 1 December 1988, his sentence was increased by another five years for “spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda”.

On the 6 December 1991 Tanak Jigme made another bold attempt at an individual protest. During an official visit by a Swiss delegation Jigme shouted “Free Tibet” in English, a phrase he had especially learnt for the occasion, and slogans in Chinese and Tibetan, from his cell. The authorities tried to explain away the incident by claiming to the delegates that he was ‘mad’.

Tanak Jigme was subsequently sentenced on 4 April 1992 to a further eight years imprisonment, and an additional three years deprivation of civil and political rights, bringing his sentence to 28 years and by his released on 3 September 2011, he would have spent 41 years in prison.

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