A Tibetan political prisoner who was released last year after serving a three-year sentence is in poor health with multiple medical complications, reported his niece, Nyidon, in a recent interview with TCHRD.
Born in Kora Township in Karze (Chinese: Ganzi) County, Nyidon escaped into India with an overriding mission: “To tell the story of my uncle to the world” as China continues to keep a tight lid on information coming out of Tibet.
Chime Gonpo, now 41, was detained on 18 March 2008 for staging a peaceful protest against the Chinese government in Karze County in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Around 2 pm (local time) on 18 March 2008, Gonpo along with ten other Tibetans held a protest, calling for the return of the Dalai Lama from exile, freedom in Tibet, and the release of all political prisoners in Tibet including the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Minutes after the protest, local armed police arrived and beat the protesters before taking them away, according to Gonpo’s niece, Nyidon, who arrived in India last month
Nyidon left her farming village in Kardze in April 2012 and reached Nepal in May the same year, arriving in India in August. Like every family member or relative of former political prisoners in Tibet, the lives of Nyidon and her family members have been turned upside down since the arrest. Subsequently her uncle was sentenced to three years in prison for non-violent protest.
A week after Gonpo’s release on 17 March 2011, his family, including his aged mother, began to notice drastic changes in his health. “Uncle began to lose weight and his body turned darker day by day,” Nyidon remembered in her interview with TCHRD. Gonpo’s family immediately took him to three different hospitals in Chengdu, but the doctors failed to make any diagnosis. Gonpo was then taken to a hospital in Beijing where he was diagnosed with hepatitis and kidney disease.
Nyidon said her family had all along suspected that the failing health of Gonpo, who was a “healthy and energetic” man before he went into the prison, was due to the beatings and torture he suffered during his three-year imprisonment. Gonpo’s family later took him back home after his condition improved. However, even as Gonpo was recuperating at his home, the local police continued to make weekly visits, asking him all sorts of questions and checking that he had not left anywhere without their knowledge.
The fact that Gonpo had completed his sentence did not count, as he and his family continued to be under the surveillance of the security officials. Their movements and activities and constantly monitored and controlled. Gonpo’s family had to seek permission from the local police station and other government offices to take Gonpo for treatment in Chengdu and Beijing.
“It is normal for family members and relatives of a former or current political prisoner to face many hardships at the hands of the police and other government officials,” Nyidon said.
Before leaving her hometown for Lhasa in April 2012, Nyidon had to get permission from five different County and Township level offices including the local police station, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) office, and government offices. In order not to draw their suspicions, she told them she was leaving for a pilgrimage to Lhasa.
After his violent arrest by armed police on 18 March 2008, Gonpo’s whereabouts remained unknown for one year and three months. Despite consistent efforts by his family members to find information about his detention, Gonpo remained “disappeared”. “I remember my grandmother (Gonpo’s mother) calling out his name, saying prayers, and then breaking down in tears thinking he might have already died,” Nyidon said. Gonpo’s imprisonment in Mianyang Prison (Sichuan Province) led to the rapid deterioration of his mother’s health.
Many other people, some of whom Nyidon knew personally, were also sentenced along with her uncle, Gonpo. Nyiga, 50, from Sershul Township, was sentenced to eight years. Goga, 45, from the same village as Nyidon, was sentenced to three years in prison. Another man, a friend of Nyiga and Goga, whose name Nyidon cannot recall, was sentenced to seven years.
“All that they did to get such heavy sentences was to hold peaceful protests,” said Nyidon. “My uncle is a man of conscience; he wouldn’t hurt anyone.’