Chinese authorities have sentenced a Tibetan man to five years in jail for staging a lone protest calling for the return of Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The family of Samdrub Gyatso, who was detained nearly two years ago for holding the protest in Tibet’s capital Lhasa, was informed of the sentence only “a few days ago,” although it was handed down in October last year, his India-based brother Tenpa Dhargyal said.
Gyatso had gone on May 1, 2010, to Lhasa’s central temple, the Jokhang, and called for the return to Tibet of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the release from detention of another senior religious leader, and the restoration of property belonging to Tibetans expelled from their land following a devastating earthquake, Dhargyal said.
“He raised slogans for about five minutes, and seven police officers then surrounded him and took him away. No information was available following his detention,” Dhargyal said.
“A few days ago, his family in Lhasa received a letter saying that he had been sentenced to five years in jail,” Dhargyal told RFA this week.
The verdict had been handed down by the Lhasa Chushul People’s Court on Oct. 14, 2011, though, more than five months ago, Dhargyal said.
No explanation was given for the long delay in notifying Samdrub Gyatso’s family of his sentence.
Gyatso is now confined at the Chushul Prison near Lhasa, Dhargyal said, adding that family members had twice last year tried to visit him at another detention center, but had been turned away.
This was not the first time that Gyatso, a native of Dashi county in the Tsojang (in Chinese, Haibei) prefecture of Qinghai province, had been thrown in jail for expressing support for the Dalai Lama.
In July 2009, he was detained and jailed in Drapchi prison in Lhasa for “bringing back books containing talks by the Dalai Lama” from India, to which he traveled in November 2007 after studying Buddhism for four years at a local monastery, his brother said.
Later released, Samdrub Gyatso returned to Dashi county, where he was again detained for three days.
“Local leaders and other Tibetans close to him paid 10,000 yuan [U.S. $1,579] for a release order on the condition he not leave the area for two years,” Dhargyal said.
“After his release, he contacted his younger brother in India, asking him to secretly send more books of instructions from the Dalai Lama forbidding the slaughter of animals and giving other advice to Tibetans.”
“He managed to distribute these books and also collected signatures calling for the release of the Panchen Lama,” a senior religious figure detained as a child by Chinese authorities after the Dalai Lama recognized him as a reincarnate lama, Dhargyal said.
Told that he was about to be arrested, Gyatso escaped to Lhasa, where he staged his solitary protest on May 1, 2010.
Unlike in the Tibetan-populated western Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu, mass protests are rare in the Tibet Autonomous Region, where Chinese authorities have tightened security measures since deadly riots in March 2008.
Tensions have risen in the Tibetan-populated provinces in recent months following a wave of protests challenging rule by Beijing and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama.
There have been 33 Tibetan self-immolation protests since 2009 in Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai.
Two other Tibetan protesters have set themselves ablaze in India, with the latest burning taking place in March in advance of a visit to India by Chinese president Hu Jintao.
Reported by Lobe Socktsang for RFA's Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.