Former Tibetan political prisoner released after 21 years detained for second time for staging defiant protest in front of Potala Palace

A prominent former Tibetan political prisoner named Lodoe Gyatso was detained late last month for carrying out a lone protest against Chinese government in Lhasa. He has since been handed over to the Sog (Ch: Suo) County Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This is Lodoe Gyatso’s second detention following his release from prison after 21 years in 2013.

On 28 January this year, Lodoe Gyatso staged a solo protest in front of the historic Potala Palace, which used to be the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas in the Tibetan capital Lhasa. After travelling from his hometown in Sog County to Lhasa, Lodoe Gyatso completed the entire length of the circumambulation route around the Potala Palace and then stood in front of the historic monument shouting protest slogans against Chinese government, a source informed TCHRD. After about four minutes of the protest, local police took him away. It is unclear what slogans he shouted but the source reported that some onlookers saw Lodoe Gyatso taken away by the police. The next day, he was handed over to the Sog County authorities and will likely be investigated by both the Sog county and Nagchu prefecture authorities.

In a video message recorded early this year, Lodoe Gyatso announced his plan to stage the 28 January protest in Lhasa. The 1.38 minutes long video that became available this week shows Lodoe Gyatso expressing his reasons and motivation behind his continued protests against Chinese authorities. He states that Tibet is a zone of peace and that for thousands of years, Tibetans have made efforts to bring world peace through the principle of interdependence, non-violent behaviour and the Middle Way Approach which conforms to the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to promote world peace. He says for world peace, more than a hundred Tibetans have carried out self-immolation and explains that for the past 11 years, he has wholeheartedly devoted his mind, body, and speech to promoting world peace. He ends the message with the announcement that he would be staging a protest on 28 January in Lhasa as a way to launch his campaign for world peace.

Since his release from prison in 2013, Lodoe Gyatso has on several occasions openly defied Chinese authorities for implementing repressive policies and campaigns in Tibet. In 2016, he was held in at Tsamda detention centre in Diru (Ch: Biru) County for more than two months, from 14 May to 19 July, for protesting the expulsion of monks and nuns from religious institutions located in Tibetan areas outside TAR. Chinese authorities had ordered monks and nuns from Nagchu Prefecture studying at Larung Gar, Yachen Gar, and Sershul Monastery to return to their homes failing which their family members will not be allowed to harvest caterpillar fungus, which is the main source of income for most of the families in Tibet. Since 2013, Chinese authorities have barred monks and nuns holding TAR residence permits from joining and studying in monastic institutions located in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan provinces. Lodoe Gyatso criticised the Chinese government treatment of the monks and nuns as a severe violation of their rights as enshrined in both the national and international law. He questioned the authorities for depriving the monks and nuns the right to freedom of religious education and for treating them as if they were criminals. In 2015, Lodoe Gyatso had openly criticised the local Chinese authorities for forcing Tibetans living in Drachen (Ch: Bachen), Sog and Diru counties to wear tiger and leopard fur-trimmed robes and perform songs and dances to celebrate the founding day of the People’s Liberation Army on 1 August (known as “Army Day” in China).

TCHRD strongly condemns the incommunicado detention of Lodoe Gyatso and calls on the Chinese authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally. The Centre is deeply concerned that he is at risk of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment due to the incommunicado nature of his detention and the rampant use of torture in Chinese detention centres across Tibet. It is unacceptable that Lodoe Gyatso was detained for more than two months in 2016 without any trial and that the only explanation from the law enforcement authorities was that the detention centre where he was being held was a “legal education centre”. It has long become an open secret that many detention centres are now being used as “legal education centres” after the abolishment of the notorious “Reeducation through labour” facilities. The ongoing detention of Lodoe Gyatso following his peaceful protest in Lhasa is a violation of his right to freedom of peaceful assembly and right to freedom of expression, both of which are guaranteed in Chinese Constitution and in the international human rights law.

Lodoe Gyatso, 57, had been released on 2 May 2013 after spending 21 years at Chushur Prison near Lhasa. He was born in 1962 in Sogkhar Village of Tsadog Township in Sog County in the Tibetan province of Kham.

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