Tibetan Monk Freed After Two-Year Prison Term

2017-08-14
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Gomar Choephel in an undated photo.
Gomar Choephel in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

A Tibetan monk jailed for two years in western China’s Qinghai province for “subverting the state” has been released with restrictions placed on his movements, according to Tibetan sources.

Gomar Choephel, 48, was freed from the Ho Min Xian prison in Qinghai’s Menyuan Hui Autonomous County on or around July 10, and returned to Rongwo monastery in Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in Qinghai’s Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, said a source inside Tibet, who spoke to RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity.

“Chinese authorities warned the monks and relatives in advance not to organize any kind of reception to mark his release,” the source said.

“Rongwo monks and his relatives did go to receive him, but they were not allowed to put up any significant reception, including taking photos related to his release and arrival and so on,” he added.

“The authorities also imposed restrictions on his movements from the monastery.”

According to the source, Choephel was detained on July 10, 2015 when police in Rebgong raided his room at Rongwo and found a photo of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since escaping Tibet during a failed national uprising in 1959.

Beijing rejects the Dalai Lama's call for a "middle way" solution of a semiautonomous Tibet under Chinese rule, and accuses him and his supporters of campaigning to split Tibet from the rest of China.

Choephel was held without being charged until Feb. 17 last year, when the Marlo People’s Intermediate Court tried him for circulating a statement that read “no stability without equality,” possession of a photo of the Dalai Lama, and “commission of acts aimed at subverting the state.”

He was sentenced to two years in jail and returned to Ho Min Xian prison, where he worked 15-hour days producing army uniforms and erecting fences, the source said.

A second source, who also asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that Choephel’s relatives were only permitted to see him once a month during his incarceration.

“If they spoke in Mandarin [Chinese], they could converse for 30 minutes, but if the conversation was in Tibetan they were only allowed to speak for five minutes,” the source said.

“Gomar Choephel is the son of Lojang and a resident of Gomang village,” he added.

County targeted

In March, sources told RFA that authorities in Rebgong were strengthening security forces amid official concerns that the anniversary of the 1959 national uprising against Beijing’s rule might trigger further protests.

The source said that armed police and security officers in civilian clothes could be seen near Rongwo monastery, at major road crossings, and in the front courtyards of government buildings, and emergency personnel stationed in the area had been equipped with fire extinguishers to prevent self-immolation protests by Tibetans.

Earlier that month, monks from Rongwo had appealed for the return of property formerly leased to a teacher’s college but seized by local authorities after the college moved to a new location.

The property, comprising one third of the total estate of the monastery, was confiscated in 2016, prompting monks to petition for its return, but Chinese authorities locked and sealed it.

In March 2016, authorities imposed sweeping new restrictions on Rongwo and other Rebgong monasteries, directing them to strictly follow the leadership of their management committees and strengthening a ban on the display of photos of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources in the region and in exile told RFA in earlier reports.

Chinese authorities set up the management committees in early 2012 in most Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, placing them under the direct control of government officials permanently stationed there, sources said.

The policy was enacted to ensure that monks and nuns do not participate in activities calling for an independent Tibet or “disturb the social order” by engaging in self-immolations or other protests, they said.

Reported by Sangye Dorjee and Lhuboom for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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