Tibet's longest-serving political prisoner Lobsang Tenzin’s health has deteriorated to a “critical” level, according to a Tibetan advocacy group, which has asked the Chinese authorities to provide immediate medical aid to him.
Lobsang Tenzin, jailed for the last 23 years for his role in anti-China protests in the Tibetan capital, suffers from severe diabetes, causing occasional blindness, according to the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).
His prison term is scheduled to end in 2012, according to TCHRD.
“We are deeply concerned about Lobsang’s health and we strongly urge the Chinese government to immediately provide medical aid to him,” TCHRD said in a statement released yesterday.
At present an inmate of the Chushur prison near Lhasa, Tenzin was a university student at the time of his arrest.
He was one of five Tibetans charged in the death of a Chinese police officer who was beaten and thrown from a window after being detected photographing participants in a 1988 protest in Lhasa.
Frequently tortured and beaten during his years in prison, Tenzin was at first sentenced to death following his conviction on a charge of murder. The sentence was later commuted to a life term, following “strong international pressure on China,” TCHRD said in a statement.
Active in prison
Tenzin remained politically active while incarcerated, organizing a protest in Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi prison and founding a group called Snow Lion Youth for Tibetan Independence.
In 1991, Tenzin and another prisoner attempted to pass a list containing the names of Tibetan political prisoners to U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley, then visiting Tibet. The attempt led to further beatings and a term in solitary confinement.
He is among a long list of political prisoners in China, according to a database of 1,452 cases of political prisoners in the country compiled by the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which monitors human rights and other rule-of-law developments in China.
The role of Tenzin and the other Tibetans in the 1988 killing of a Chinese policeman is still unclear, said Robbie Barnett, director of Columbia University’s Modern Tibetan Studies Program.
“Nobody has ever said or explored what actually happened, or whether they were really guilty,” Barnett said.
“Of course, the trial was completely unfair. So we don’t know. We just don’t know.”
What is certain, Barnett said, is Tenzin’s importance as an “early political thinker and activist” in the Tibetan struggle against rule by Beijing.
“He could have been a very important leader if he hadn’t got caught up straightaway,” Barnett said.
Reported by Richard Finney.