A Tibetan jailed for his role in protests challenging Beijing’s rule that rocked Tibetan areas of China in March 2008 has been released after serving six years of his 12-year term in prison, receiving a hero’s welcome in his hometown in China’s Sichuan province, according to local sources.
Sonam Yarphel, 34, was released on May 7, an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Thursday.
On arriving at his home village of Dilyu in Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture’s Draggo (Luhuo) county, Yarphel was greeted by “over 100 villagers who presented ceremonial scarves and gave him a warm welcome,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Yarphel had been detained in April 2008 in Kardze for taking part in a rally by Tibetans at the end of March in Draggo’s Trehor Chogri town, the source said.
“He was later handed a 12-year prison sentence by the Kardze Prefecture People’s Court for his role in the protest,” he said.
Yarphel ‘s release “for no apparent reason” six years and one month before completing his term follows the April 1 release after six years of Tsedak Gonpo, who had been jailed for leading protests in Sichuan’s Ngaba (Aba) prefecture, also in 2008.
Yarphel’s arrest and sentencing came amid a crackdown on anti-government protests that swept Tibetan regions in March 2008 following the anniversary of a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule.
Information on Yarphel’s present condition of health was not immediately available. It was also not clear whether he was among the monks who led the Draggo protests at that time.
When nearly 300 monks from Draggo’s Trehor monastery walked in protest toward the county center on March 25, 2008, a group of local police, mainly Tibetans, warned the monks to stop and return to the monastery, local sources told RFA.
“But the monks booed them and shouted that they should be ashamed to work for the Chinese government,” one source said.
Allowed to proceed, the monks then demonstrated at the county center, where they were joined by other Tibetan residents of the area in calling for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and for religious freedom and human rights.
“The monks then marched back to the monastery and continued their protests,” the source said.
“At one point, shots were fired, but the monks dodged the bullets by lying flat on the ground and declared that they would not respond with violence, though some of them damaged Chinese government vehicles on the way back.”
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since 2008, with 131 Tibetans to date self-immolating to protest Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.