Tibetan writer released from prison in China after serving 13 years

Kunchok Tsephel was editor of a website promoting classical and modern Tibetan literature.
By Lobe Socktsang
Tibetan writer released from prison in China after serving 13 years Tibetan writer Kunchok Tsephel is shown in an undated photo.

A Tibetan writer jailed for 15 years for writings deemed separatist by Chinese authorities has been released two years before finishing his sentence, with no word immediately available regarding his present state of health, Tibetan sources say.

Kunchok Tsephel, born in 1970, was freed from custody on March 18 and has returned to his family home in Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county in Gansu province’s Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, an India-based Tibetan rights group said this week.

“He is back with his family now, but we still don’t know about his current health condition,” Tsering Tsomo, director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) told RFA, citing sources in Tibet.

“All we can do is hope that he is doing well,” Tsomo said. “The Chinese government usually keeps political prisoners and their families under close surveillance, so it is very difficult for us to get more information for now.

“However, we urge the Chinese authorities to allow Kunchok Tsephel and other Tibetan political prisoners in general to seek proper medical care at any hospital they choose and also to refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on Tsephel and his family members,” she added.

Reasons given for Tsephel’s early release include a record of “good behavior” in prison including the saving of a fellow prisoner’s life, Tsomo said without elaborating.

Editor of Choemei (Butter Lamp), a website founded in 2005 with poet Kyabchen Dedrol to promote Tibetan literature, Tsephel was arrested on Feb. 26, 2009 by Chinese security officers who searched his home and confiscated his computer. He was working as an environmental officer for the Chinese government at the time of his arrest.

Tsephel was then held at an undisclosed location until Nov. 12, 2009, when the Intermediate People’s Court in Kanlho sentenced him in a closed hearing to 15 years in prison for “disclosing state secrets,” a charge that was never officially explained.

Tsephel had earlier studied Tibetan and English for three years at a Tibetan school in Himachal Pradesh, India, before returning to Tibet when his studies ended in 1994. He was later detained and tortured for two months in 1995 for his alleged involvement in political activities, according to a report by London-based Free Tibet.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated in China by force more than 70 years ago.

Chinese authorities routinely suppress websites written in the Tibetan language as a way to maintain control over Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas of western Chinese provinces and prevent protests challenging Beijing’s rule.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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