Chinese Authorities Free Tibetan Writer After Eight Years in Jail

2015-10-29
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Kalsang Sonam at his home in Dramnak village, Oct. 28, 2015.
Kalsang Sonam at his home in Dramnak village, Oct. 28, 2015.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province have released a Tibetan political writer who was sentenced to more than 10 years in jail after being accused of ‘smuggling’ a letter of appeal for help from a fellow author in prison, according to Tibetan sources.

Kalsang Sonam, 34, was released from prison in the Qinghai capital Xining on Oct. 27 after serving eight years in jail and returned to his home in Dola (in Chinese, Qilian) county in Qinghai’s Tsojang (Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture the following day, Arik Dolma Gyurme told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

However, officials from Dola’s Arik township spirited Sonam away from Xining to his home village of Dramnak in a bid to prevent his friends and family from giving him a public welcome reception, said Gyurme, who is a resident of nearby Droklung township.

“Sonam was secretly returned to his home by officials who purposely avoided a public reception for him by obscuring the time of his arrival,” Gyurme said.

“Members of the public, including his parents, waited on the road [from Xining], but the authorities delayed his arrival so that they could not receive him. Nonetheless, many Tibetans … went to his house the following day to welcome him home.”

Gyurme said that among those who went to Sonam’s home to welcome him was Arik Dolma Kyab—a fellow Tibetan author from Droklung who was released from prison on Oct. 8 after serving more than 10 years for “endangering national security” through writings deemed Tibetan nationalist in nature.

Sonam had been convicted for “smuggling” a letter from Kyab in prison asking for assistance from the United Nations, a second Tibetan source told RFA.

In 2008, Kyab received a Hellman-Hammett grant from New York-based Human Rights Watch, which gives the annual award to writers who have been victims of political persecution and are in financial need.

Following his release from prison earlier this month, Kyab’s relatives expressed concern about his health, citing problems with his abdomen and liver, and said they planned to take him to Xining for treatment.

According to the second Tibetan source, Sonam had previously studied as a novice monk at Arik’s Ganden Chokor Ling monastery before attending Rongwo monastery in Rebgong (Tongren) county, in Qinghai’s Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where he studied Tibetan language and poetry.

In 2003, Sonam studied for one year at the Sherab Gatsel Ling school in Dharamsala, India, before returning home, the source said.

China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national and cultural identity and language rights, especially since widespread protests swept Tibetan areas in 2008.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi 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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