TIBETS LONGEST-HELD PRISONER, NOW FREE, SAYS HEALTH IS POOR


2002.04.04
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WASHINGTON - Tibet's longest-serving political prisoner, freed this week after 37 years in Chinese-run jails and labor camps, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) he needs urgent medical care. "Now I am 73. My body is very weak and shaky," Tibetan dissident Tanak Jigme Zangpo told RFA's Tibetan service. "My health is not good at all. I am suffering from high blood pressure." Jigme Zangpo, who spoke to RFA by phone from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was released this week on medical parole from that city's infamous Drapchi Prison. He had spent 37 years in detention for opposing Chinese control over the landlocked Himalayan region. Since his initial arrest in 1965, "I have made the rounds of prisons," he said. Jigme Zangpo spent five years in a labor camp and 32 years in jail. "There are still nine years left of my jail time," he said. "Since I am not keeping well, I was told that I was being released for medical treatment under the warranty given by my niece, Tsering Palmo." Jigme Zangpo was last convicted in 1983 for putting up "counter-revolutionary" posters at Jokhang temple in Lhasa. His sentence was lengthened in 1991 after he shouted "Free Tibet!" during a prison visit by a Swiss delegation. The political calculations behind Beijing's decision to free him are unclear. But Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao is due to visit the United States soon, and human rights remain a chronic source of bilateral frictions. The United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva is also holding its annual meeting, where China's human rights record faces harsh annual scrutiny. The London-based human right group Amnesty International welcomed Jigme Zangpo's release, which it called "highly unusual." In its 2001 report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department asserted that "according to credible reports, Chinese government authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses in Tibet, including instances of torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetan nationalists for peacefully expressing their political or religious views." Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts news, information, and cultural programming to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia-giving them a voice as well as a means of connecting with the world and with one another. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.

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