Freedom at last? : Released from 25 years’ imprisonment, former longest-serving Tibetan political prisoner under surveillance

Lobsang Tenzin
Lobsang Tenzin

Tibet’s longest-serving known political prisoner, Lobsang Tenzin, was released last month after completing his 18-yr term in Chushul Prison in the outskirts of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in Tibet Autonomous Region.


Lobsang Tenzin was the longest-serving political prisoner among a new generation of Tibetans born after the 10 March Tibetan uprising in 1959. Lobsang Tenzin was arrested on 5 March 1988 during a demonstration against Chinese rule in Lhasa. He was then about 24 and a student of Tibet University (Lhasa).


According to information received by TCHRD, Lobsang Tenzin was released on Wednesday, 24 April 2013, the day his 18-yr prison term ended. TCHRD had earlier reported in late 2012 about the possibility of his release in 2013 (Click here for the full report.) However, it appears that his release has done little to gain him any measure of freedom even at his home, which is located at Bhanak Shol in Lhasa city. Sources told TCHRD that Lobsang Tenzin’s home is heavily guarded and monitored by security personnel and other government officials who continue to turn away visitors, among them Lobsang Tenzin’s relatives and neighbors. 


After spending 25 years in the notoriously famed Drapchi, Powo Tramo and Chushul prisons, Lobsang Tenzin has suffered brutal mistreatment and torture at the hands of prison guards, resulting in numerous health complications. Over the years, TCHRD has intermittently received reports of Lobsang Tenzin’s worsening health. Years ago, he suffered damaged kidney, causing numbness and extreme difficulty in standing. In the past, he was also said to be suffering from liver disease, possibly hepatitis. In 2011, TCHRD received information about further health complications, particularly advanced stage of diabetes, which continue to cause him momentary blindness (Please click here for the full report.)




Lobsang Tenzin was arrested on 5 March 1988 during a demonstration against Chinese rule in Lhasa. He was charged of killing a policeman on duty. The policeman had actually fallen from a window and died. In the past, analysts have highlighted the disproportionate use of force by security forces against unarmed Tibetan demonstrators during the March 1988 demonstration. Following the arrest, Lobsang Tenzin was sentenced to death with two years’ reprieve. 


In 1991, the death sentence was commuted to life after a strong and sustained pressure from the international community. By then, Lobsang Tenzin had spent three years in Drapchi Prison.


On 31 March 1991, prison guards caught Lobsang Tenzin and a fellow inmate, Tenpa Wangdrak, a monk from Gaden Monastic University in Lhasa, handing a letter to the then US ambassador to China, Mr James R. Lilley, who was on a visit to Drapchi. The letter contained a list of prisoners who had been tortured and information on torture methods used in the prison. Both were brutally beaten and locked up solitary confinement for about three weeks. Later they were secretly transferred to the remote and high-security Powo Tramo Prison, located in Kongpo area in eastern Tibet. Along with them, other political prisoners  Gyen Tenpa Phuljung, Gaden Gyaldhar, and Lhasawa Penpa were also secretly transferred to Powo Tramo.


TCHRD calls on the Chinese government to ensure, with immediate effect, that Lobsang Tenzin is a free man, having completed his term despite the illegality of his 25 years’ imprisonment. The Chinese government should end immediately the unreasonable practice of putting Lobsang Tenzin under ‘house arrest’. TCHRD demands that Lobsang Tenzin receive full medical treatment in the care of his family members and relatives. With respect to the principle of accountability, the Chinese government should provide full medical support to Lobsang Tenzin, who was robbed of 25 years of his life for merely exercising his right to freedom of expression, opinion and belief.



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