Family finds returned refugee in Drapchi Prison after three-year search

A Tibetan monk who returned home from India to visit his ailing mother was arrested by the authorities for taking part in peace marches there, and sentenced to five years in a Chinese prison, RFA's Tibetan service reports.

Lobsang Chozen was recently found in Lhasa's notorious Drapchi Prison by his relatives, serving a five-year prison term for possessing pro-independence materials and for taking part in peace walks in India, one of his relatives has revealed in a recent interview with RFA.

"His father Gonpo Sonam and his younger brother went to Lhasa in search of him and they found him in Drapchi Prison. He was allowed to see his father for 10 minutes on Nov. 21, 2003 at the prison. His brother was not allowed see him because only one person was allowed to meet the prisoner."

Lobsang Chozen's family had lost touch with him after he left a close relative in Nepal to travel home in response to a letter about his mother's failing health. But Lobsang Chozen was unable to give a full account of his arrest during the brief meeting.

"At that time, Lobsang Chozen mentioned his five-year sentence, but he could not explain the details," the relative Lobsang Chozen met in Nepal told RFA on condition of anonymity. "They were constantly watched by the police in the prison. And the meeting was only for 10 minutes."

"The Chinese police told my relatives that he was sentenced for possessing cassettes and literature propagating Tibetan independence. Some others told us that they found many photos of him participating in peace marches in India."

"If everything goes well, he will complete his five years in 2006, but still we don't know when he was sentenced for five years."

Lobsang Chozen had followed his relative to India as a refugee in 1991, enrolling in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in southern India to continue his religious studies, the relative said.

"I escaped to India through Nepal in 1990, met His Holiness [the Dalai Lama], and enrolled in Gaden Shartse Monastery in Mundgod, South India," the relative said. "Lobsang Chozen also left our hometown and escaped to India in 1991. He got enrolled in Sera Monastery in Byalakuppe, South India."

Lobsang Chozen's relative, who is currently living in the United States, said Lobsang Chozen had taken part in peace marches during his time in India. "Then, in 2000, he received a letter from his home informing him that his mother's health was deteriorating and that he should come to see her."

Lobsang Chozen met his relative in Nepal, and was subsequently warned by the relative not to travel home. "I advised him not to go, but to talk with his parents on the phone. He had already studied well and I said he should complete his studies, but he was not ready to listen."

"I told him to write when he reached Lhasa. Therefore, he left Nepal on August 18, 2000 with two other Tibetans including another monk from Chachung Monastery. We arranged some Sherpa escorts as far as the border area."

It was three and a half years before Lobsang Chozen's family discovered what had happened to him. An official letter informed them of his detention, but not his whereabouts, Lobsang Chozen's relative said.

Drapchi Prison has a reputation for being the harshest in Tibet. An estimated 130 political prisoners�including women�are detained there, and are reported to suffer regular torture and beatings. Since 1987, 27 prisoners are reported to have died, and a further 47 have had their sentences increased for protesting, according to overseas rights groups.

A report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 1,268 Tibetan refugees travelled through Nepal in 2002. Many are Buddhist monks and nuns fleeing persecution, or simply looking for a monastery at which to pursue their religious studies without fear of harassment. #####


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