Tibetan monk who spent more than 20 years in Chinese prisons dies at 61

Ngawang Gyaltsen was one of 21 monks who participated in the 1987 Lhasa Uprising.
By Lobsang Gelek
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Tibetan monk who spent more than 20 years in Chinese prisons dies at 61 Undated photos of Ngawang Gyaltsen.
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A Tibetan monk who served a 17-year sentence for his participation in the 1987 Lhasa Uprising has died at the age of 61, RFA has learned.

Ngawang Gyaltsen, one of the 21 monks of Lhasa’s Drepung Monastery who in 1987 took to the streets in a show of support for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence, passed away Monday at 5:30 p.m.

For his actions in 1987, Ngawang Gyaltsen was convicted of “undermining national security” and remained in prison until his release in 2006.

“It is so heartbreaking to hear about the passing away of another political prisoner. We must offer our prayer and with his demise the Tibetan youths in exile must realize the courage, determination and aspiration of our brothers and sisters inside Tibet,” Ngawang Woebar, another monk who participated in the 1987 uprising, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Ngawang Gyaltsen committed his whole life to speaking against repressive Chinese policies in Tibet. He continuously protested the [Chinese Communist Party] regime following the 1987 uprising and dedicated his life to Tibet.” 

Following his release, he entered the Shag Rongpo Gaden Dargyaling Monastery in Nagchu County (in Chinese Naqu), where he had been enrolled as a child. He was a well-known artist who studied thangka painting and was proficient at ritual dance.

At that monestary, Ngawang Gyaltsen resisted a re-education campaign imposed by Chinese government officials based there. They required the monks to denounce the Dalai Lama and other important Tibetan Buddhist figures.

He was later forced by authorities to leave the monastery, and restrictions were placed on his movements and on who he was allowed to contact. He was again taken away by police “late at night” on Feb. 24, 2015, sources told RFA’s Tibetan Service at the time.

Gyaltsen was later tried on unknown charges and was sent to Drapchi prison in Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa to serve a three-year term in addition to his time spent in pre-trial detention, Free Tibet said after his release in 2019.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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