Imprisoned for protesting environmental destruction in Tibet

Tibet’s environment is increasingly under threat of destruction by China’s actions of mining and development. The Tibetan people are not consulted on the development and rarely benefit from the land’s use. They are also prevented from speaking out. When he was 18 years old Phuntsok Chosang was imprisoned in Meldro Gongkar for protesting against China’s environmental practices in his hometown. Subsequent to his release from prison, Phuntsok was almost blind and was no longer able to stand upright due to prison torture.

Phuntsok Chosang, aged 23, is from Meldro Gongkar in Gyamo Shang. He arrived in Dharamsala, India, from Tibet on 8 April 1997 and was interviewed soon after.

Phuntsok reported that in 1989 Chinese authorities created a plan to build roads for the purpose of mining natural resources in the Meldro Gonkar county of Gyama Shang (shang signifies township), located 73 km east of Lhasa.

Local Tibetans appealed to the Chinese authorities to call off the plan but were consistently ignored. In subsequent protest actions Phuntsok Chosang was one of those who pasted wall posters which read “You cannot exploit our land for mining purposes”. The authorities response was that “Tibetans do not have the right to say anything on the matter since the land belongs to the country of China”.

In 1990, the authorities began implementing the plan to build roads. While Chinese authorities had initially claimed that the plan would benefit the Tibetans, the construction work necessitated the destruction of cultivated land of local Tibetan inhabitants.

Mining of natural resources in Thalung area in Gyama Shang uses toxic materials and dynamite in blasting the areas. This has resulted in severe ecological imbalance causing extensive soil erosion and frequent heavy rains and hailstorms. Wild animals, birds and farm animals have died from the toxic gases released.

Continued complaints by locals were disregarded and in 1990 Phuntsok Chosang and his 27 year-old friend Gyatso again pasted wall posters of protest. They were pasted on the public roads at Trigang village and at Gyama Shang’s main administrative office.

The posters urged Tibetans to no longer remain silent and read: “Chinese cannot exploit our natural resources. If you exploit the resources, Tibet’s pastures and food will be less productive. If you exploit our natural resources by force, you should be responsible for the resulting natural calamities”.

On 29 December 1991, Phuntsok and Gyatso pasted wall posters for the third time at Gyama Rinchen Gang, a village close by, and at the Gyama Shang main government office. The posters called for Tibetan independence and rebuked promises made by the Chinese authorities: “Earlier you said that you are leading us to prosperity. What is happening is the opposite. You are putting the people into hardship. You are killing wild animals, birds and fish without any mercy. This gravely effects the mentality of the Tibetan people. So the Chinese must stop all these evil acts”.

In March 1992 Phuntsok Chosang and Gyatso were arrested from their houses and taken away by Public Security Bureau Officials of Gyama Shang.

Phuntsok suspected that a man named Karma, who was arrested two days earlier and had reportedly been severely tortured in prison, may have informed authorities of Phuntsok and Gyatso’s actions.

After their arrest the two men faced a series of interrogations. Finally Phuntsok was forced to confess before prison officials that he had made the poster. He was subsequently placed in a solitary confinement cell which measured only about 5 feet in length and 4 feet in width. The cell was completely dark with no light and no air ventilation.

Phuntsok reported that it was very difficult for him to stay in that tiny cell in absolute darkness. When he coughed the whole cell would echo and vibrate. He was held there for 13 days.

Gyatso was found to be only an accomplice of Phuntsok and was therefore kept in a more spacious cell which usually accommodates three to four people.

While in prison Phuntsok and Gyatso were interrogated once every day for approximately one hour. They were asked: “Who pasted the posters?”; “Who taught you to do it?”; “How many times did you do it?”; “What was the content of the posters?”. They were also routinely beaten and iron rods were jammed into their mouths during interrogations. Phuntsok still recalls the names of those who tortured him during interrogation: Li-huan, Dhondup, and Jampa.

While in prison Phuntsok Chosang and Gyatso were provided only with old rotten and left-over food of other prisoners. They had only the clothes they were wearing and no extra clothes were provided to them. They suffered greatly during the month of March, in the early period of their detention, as the weather was extremely cold and the cells became icy.

On the 13th day of solitary confinement Phuntsok Chosang was so ill that he was not able to walk or to hold himself up. He had to stagger to walk even a few steps and would then collapse. He felt dizzy and was near blind; his only vision was blurred. The Chinese authorities were eventually compelled to shift him to a more spacious cell but regular beatings continued.

Phuntsok was finally released on medical parole at the end of May 1993 after one year and two months of imprisonment. He then returned to his hometown but his feeble health condition made it difficult for him to carry out his daily work. He later joined Ganden monastery at the end of June 1996 and remained there until December 1996.

At present Phuntsok is unable to see clearly and cannot read his religious texts properly.

Hunting endangers Tibet’s wild life

Phuntsok reports that unique animal species in Thalung area in Gyama Shang under Meldro Gonkar county are threatened with extinction not just by mining, but also as a result of Chinese hunting practices.

While Tibetans are strictly prohibited from possessing firearms, Chinese officials routinely hunt rabbit, musk deer, bharal (blue) sheep, white lipped deer, and gowa (Tibetan gazelle) in the area. Every 15 to 16 days the skins are dried in the open air and then taken to the Chinese market where they fetch a good price.

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