Painter’s suicide in prison

Kalsang Dawa, a 29 year old painter from Phenpo, central Tibet, was reported to have died mysteriously in October 1995 while serving his prison sentence in a Chinese prison in Tibet (reported in Human Rights Update of May 15, 1997). More reliable information has been received from a recent arrival from Tibet, detailing the circumstances of Kalsang’s death. Suffering mental and physical pain as a result of prison beatings Kalsang Dawa took his own life.

Kalsang Dawa was arrested and imprisoned in April or May 1993 for having painted the forbidden Tibetan national flag and pasting independence wall posters. He was taken to Sangyip prison in May 1993 and kept in Unit no. 6.

One night a drunk prison guard stormed into Kalsang’s prison cell and immediately began to beat him for not having complied with prison orders to go to sleep on time. The beating continued the next day and Kalsang received heavy blows to his head.

Since that day Kalsang demonstrated some kind of abnormality in his behaviour. He was said to have often covered his ears with both hands and would cry out; “they are inserting electric batons into my ears.” Sometimes he would take off his shirt and place it on his head. His health deteriorated.

One of his fellow inmates reported; “Unable to remain silent spectator to his suffering we pleaded several times to the prison officials to take him to the hospital. Finally they took him for a medical check up, but the hospital reports showed that he was fit and had no problem with his brain. We were not satisfied and again pleaded with the authorities to take him to hospital for a proper and thorough medical check up but the same report was given.”

Kalsang Dawa was imprisoned in Sangyip for about eight to nine months, and later, after his sentence was pronounced, he was transferred to Toelung Trisam Prison. Toelung Trisam, 12 km from Lhasa, is known as a labour camp, where the prisoners are put under hard labour.

One of Kalsang Dawa’s close inmates in Sangyip (name withheld) was later Kalsang’s cell mate in Toelung Trisam. Now released, this man had told our source that Kalsang often complained of pain although when he was first brought into Sangyip, he had been in good mental and physical health.

In Trisam prison the visiting day was fixed on the 14th of every month and on one such day Kalsang was reported to have dressed in new clothes, washed his hair and looked very fresh and happy. He said to his fellow prisoners that; “if I die I have nothing to regret, since I die for the sake of six million Tibetans and for our country Tibet”.

This was to be Kalsang’s final statement. A few hours later he was found dead in his cell, hanging from the ceiling. He had used a toilet pot to support himself while tying the rope around his neck.

Chinese prison officials subsequently intended to call Kalsang’s parents to show them the cause of their son’s death, but Kalsang’s close friend had strongly objected to this and the problems it would cause his parents, and he offered to take responsibility for the body. He asked the prison officials to cover the cremation expenses but, after much pleading, was provided with a sum of only 800 yuan.

Kalsang Dawa’s parents are poor farmers and were unable to help him look after his well being. They were reportedly devastated at not having seen their son before he died.


to top