Chinese authorities have released a second Tibetan political prisoner after 17 years in jail, according to a Tibetan rights group Thursday, which said that Beijing freed the duo in poor health.
Dawa Gyaltsen, a former bank accountant and believed to be about 47, was released last month "with the limp in one of his legs having worsened over the years due to ill-treatment and torture in prison for over 17 years," the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a statement.
The Chinese authorities have not issued any statement on his release, which the center said occurred sometime last month.
They also had not commented on the release earlier this week of Tibetan activist Jigme Gyatso, 52, after he served 17 years in prison where rights groups said he was beaten and tortured.
The official reason for Dawa Gyaltsen's release, a year before his 18-year jail term ended, was for exhibiting "good behavior" but his heath condition has deteriorated over the years, Tibetan sources told the TCHRD.
His former prison mate in Chushul Prison near Tibet's capital Lhasa, and who now lives in India, said it is highly probable that he may have been released due to his poor health.
“Ten years ago when I was with him in the prison, I always saw him sick and confined to his cell.”
It is not uncommon in Tibet for Tibetan political prisoners to die shortly after their release, the TCHRD said. "Many Tibetan political prisoners have died at the hands of prison authorities after succumbing to torture-related injuries," it said.
In 1995, Dawa Gyaltsen, along with his younger brother, monk Nyima Dhondup, and two other monks, Mazo and Agya, were detained for distributing “political documents." They were arrested on charges of “inciting counterrevolutionary propaganda” by Lhasa Public Security Bureau (PSB) personnel.
Dawa Gyaltsen was labeled as the “ringleader” and in May 1996, sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. His brother, Nyima Dhondup, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Mazo and Agya each received eight years’ imprisonment.
Initially, all four of them were held in Lhasa's Drapchi Prison but were transferred in May 1997 to the newly renovated and expanded Chushul Prison in the outskirts of Lhasa.
Dawa Gyaltsen spent a major part of his sentence in Chushul Prison, "where incarceration means brutal mistreatment and torture of political prisoners," TCHRD said.
Prior to his sentencing, Dawa Gyatsen was held in Seitru Detention Centre (Lhasa) for 14 months "undergoing intense interrogation, beatings and torture," it said.
His 14-month detention was not included in his 18-year sentence, it said.
Another Tibetan activist, Jigme Gyatso, 52, was freed on March 30 after serving 17 years in prison with hard labor for seeking independence for Tibet and calling for the long life of Tibet's spirtual leader, the Dalai Lama, according to a Tibetan source.
He appeared "very weak" when he returned Monday to his home in Sangchu (in Chinese, Xiahe) county in Gansu province's Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after being released from Chushul prison on Saturday, the source told RFA's Tibetan Service earlier this week.
Jigme Gyatso, leader of the Tibetan Independence and Truth Group, was sentenced in 1996 to 15 years in prison on charges of being a "counterrevolutionary ringleader" and endangering national security.
The Chinese authorities added two more years to his sentence in 2004 for "inciting separatism" when he shouted in prison for the long life of Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India's Dharamsala hill town, TCHRD said.
Many international human rights groups had protested his jailing or campaigned on his behalf, including Amnesty International which designated him a prisoner of conscience after accusing the Chinese authorities of beating and torturing him in prison.
He was also hospitalized for an unknown period during his imprisonment.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Written by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.