A high-profile Tibetan prisoner has been transferred to a medical facility in northwestern China’s Gansu Province six months before his scheduled release from prison, sparking fears he may have been tortured while in custody, Tibetan sources said.
Jigme Gyatso, also known as Jigme Goril, was admitted to a prison hospital in the provincial capital Lanzhou sometime early this month or at the end of February, a source in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service, citing contacts in the region.
“In early March, Jigme Goril’s family members learned about his hospitalization from prison authorities, who relayed the information to them in a phone call,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He is scheduled to be released in about six months,” the source said.
Gyatso, a monk attached to the Labrang monastery in the Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, had been serving a five-year term after being sentenced for actions aimed at “splitting the nation,” sources said in earlier reports.
“Splittism” is a charge often brought against Tibetans who assert their national culture and identity or who protest China’s rule in Tibetan regions, where a series of self-immolations and other protests have led to a crackdown by security forces and the detention of scores of Tibetans.
Gyatso’s conviction on Sept. 5, 2014 was confirmed after a second trial following his detention in August 2011 for the fourth time in a five-year period, sources said.
He became an instant hero in the Tibetan community after a 2009 video in which he testified about his brutal treatment in custody was widely circulated on the Internet.
Gyatso’s family had last visited him in prison on Jan. 25 this year, the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a statement on March 8.
“Earlier, the monk’s family members were allowed a monthly visit although they were banned from bringing homemade food,” TCHRD said.
Now, Gyatso’s sudden move to hospital has raised fears of ill-treatment in custody, TCHRD said, adding that there was no indication that Gyatso had been in poor health before his move and that it is “deeply concerned over the sudden turn of events” in the case.
“In Tibet, detainees are still beaten and subjected to conditions that amount to torture—including the denial of medical care, starvation diets, and freezing cells,” the rights group said.
“Prisoners who are about to die are [often] released on ‘medical parole’ so that their death does not occur in a detention facility—even though it was caused by their treatment during detention.”
Reported by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.