03/08/2020

China releases Geshe Sonam Phuntsok upon completion of prison term

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Geshe Sonam Phuntsok
Geshe Sonam Phuntsok

Chinese authorities have released Geshe Sonam Phuntsok upon completion of his five years imprisonment term, according to confirmed information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD). Geshe Sonam Phuntsok, popularly known as Kardze Geshe, was imprisoned for his religious activities and for conducting long life prayer ceremony for the Dalai Lama in October 1999.

Early morning on 26 October 2004, Chinese Public Security Bureau (“PSB”) Officials brought Geshe in a government vehicle to his native Rongbatsang District in Kardze County, Kardze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture (“TAP”), Sichuan. He had earlier arrived in Dartsedo County on 24 October 2004 where he had undergone medical treatment after release from Chuandong no 3 Prison in Tazhu County. 

TCHRD fears that Geshe Sonam Phuntsok is in poor health due to lengthy imprisonment and maltreatment in the prison.

Arrest
On 25 October 1999, a team of around 20 PSB officers arrested Geshe Sonam Phuntsok at gun point. He was barely clothed and barefooted at the time of arrest. Around 3000 local Tibetans gathered infront of Rongbatsang Government Office demanding his immediate and unconditional release. The next day, a larger crowd comprising of Tibetans from neighbouring counties demanded the release of Geshe. About 600 PSB officers and People’s Armed Police (“PAP”) threw tear gas shells and fired indiscriminately into the crowd to quell the protest. Many Tibetans were detained and some received imprisonment terms and monetary fines for their acts. Tsering Wangchuk, a protester died while in detention.

Sentence
In March 2001, after a year and five months, Kardze People’s Intermediate Court sentenced Geshe to five years’ imprisonment term on charges of “Inciting splittist activities among the masses”, “travelling to India on an illegal document procured from Lhasa, for seeking audience with the Dalai Lama and for taking photographs with him”, “illegally conducting religious ceremony on several occasions within Kardze County”, and “for conducting long-life prayer ceremony for the Dalai Lama in Rongbatsang”.

Ill health in prison
During two separate visits to the prison, Geshe’s father and a relative were shocked to see him in a frail health. His father, Agya Phuntsok, described that Geshe was lean, semiconscious and could not move properly. He had been reportedly put on IV drips for seven hours.

Background
Geshe Sonam Phuntosk was born in 1951 in Choesa Village, Shusar Township, Ronbatsang District, Kardze County. Early in his childhood, he was ordained as a monk and at the age of 18 he received sacred initiation and other religious teachings from eminent Buddhist masters. In the 1980s he taught Tibetan literature to monks from 35 different monasteries. He also recorded historical descriptions of 13 monasteries in Kardze “TAP”. Geshe was based at Dhargay Monastery in Rongbatsang District but often traveled to monasteries and remote villages throughout Kardze County to conduct religious ceremonies and teachings. In 1996, Geshe travelled to India to visit holy places for pilgrimage. He met with the Dalai Lama as part of his pilgrimage during that time. Geshe Sonam Phuntsok returned to Tibet and continued to conduct religious ceremonies for nearly three years thereafter.