Prominent Tibetan writer and teacher Dolma Kyab released after completion of over 10 years’ sentence

Dolma Kyab pictured here after release
Dolma Kyab pictured here after release

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy welcomes the release of Tibetan writer and teacher Dolma Kyab from prison after completing 10 years and six months. Dolma Kyab was sentenced for writing a book.

According to information received by TCHRD, Dolma Kyab received a warm welcome from family, friends and other Tibetans in his hometown of Arig in the Tibetan province of Amdo. Eyewitnesses say he is in poor health and some suspect he is suffering from complications related to stomach ulcer and kidneys. “He frequently gets dehydrated with his mouth and throat becoming dry,” an eyewitness told TCHRD. Latest photographs of Dolma Kyab show signs of premature aging and ill health.

Dolma Kyab was released at 8 am local time on 8 October 2015 from Chushur (Ch: Qushui) Prison in Lhasa. At the time, two police officers from Dolma Kyab’s hometown in Dola (Ch: Qilian) County had come to fetch the writer. Dolma Kyab was taken to Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, from Lhasa by air. After reaching Xining at 4 pm, the Chushur prison authorities handed him over to Xining Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. At around 9.30 pm, he was taken to Dola County PSB office to sign documents for his release and then handed over to Dola County PSB. At 10.40 pm, he was released to his family.

Dolma Kyab as a student in India
Dolma Kyab as a student in India

When Dolma Kyab reached Dola County town, some Tibetans recognized the writer and started welcoming him with khatas (‘Tibetan ceremonial scarves’). Since it was late at night, not many local Tibetans knew about the release and not many had gathered that night to welcome the writer. The two police officers from Dola County accompanied the writer on his return home going until Donglung Township. A local Tibetan said in recent times, political prisoners who were released have been receiving grand welcome ceremonies on their return home, with large numbers of Tibetans garlanding them with khatas, shouting victory cries, and making prayer flags. To avoid such large gatherings, the Chinese authorities intentionally extended the custody of Dolma Kyab for hours after release.

On 9 October, a day after his release, when news spread of Dolma Kyab’s release, many local Tibetans turned up to welcome him with khatas.

Dolma Kyab wearing khatas offered by local Tibetans
Dolma Kyab wearing khatas offered by local Tibetans

Earlier in 2005, during his detention, he suffered severe beatings and torture at the hands of interrogation officers causing him to contract tuberculosis. He was briefly hospitalized in an army hospital in Lhasa after which he was sent back to prison. This, despite the fact that, he had not fully recovered from the disease.

During his years in prison, Dolma Kyab improved his Tibetan and English, also taking serious interest in art. He had done over a hundred paintings and sketches of people, animals, and nature. A painting of a Tibetan nomad woman and a sketch of a Tibetan Mastiff are noteworthy.

Dolma Kyab was detained on 9 March 2005 by Lhasa PSB officers and secretly sentenced on 30 November 2005 by Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court. He was convicted of “harming state stability” and imprisoned in Chushur prison, located in northern part of Lhasa. His charges also included “leaking state secrets” or espionage. Earlier it was reported by some sources that Dolma Kyab was temporarily transferred to a prison in Xining in 2009, after 2008 uprising. However, local Tibetans say he was never transferred and served his sentence at Chushur.

Dolma Kyab in his home village
Dolma Kyab in his home village

Dolma Kyab was unfairly and unjustly sentenced for crimes he never committed. On the night of his sentencing, Dolma Kyab wrote an appeal letter addressed to the UN Human Rights Council, international women’s groups, international environment protection groups, and UNESCO and smuggled it out through a fellow prisoner who was released.

A Tibetan Mastiff drawn by Dolma Kyab
A Tibetan Mastiff drawn by Dolma Kyab

In the hand-written letter from prison, Dolma said that he was accused of “espionage” and “separatism” for writing the book. He further stated Chinese legal provisions regarding the crime of separatism did not apply to his case, thus showing how the sentence was imposed on him. It is common for Chinese authorities to charge a writer or publisher of inciting separatism. This kind of crime usually attracts five years. To keep Dolma Kyab behind bars for longer years, he was also charged of espionage, receiving a total sentence of ten and a half years.

In the letter, Dolma Kyab had written about the secrecy surrounding his detention, arrest and sentencing. Without any evidence, he was sentenced for a book he was writing about natural geography of Tibet. His writing of the book was connected to sharing secrets with outsiders and promoting Tibetan independence. Just days before his sentencing, Dolma Kyab was moved for several days to another location. The reason was the visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr Manfred Nowak on 26 and 27 November, to Chushur.

In 2009, he was honored with the prestigious Hellman/Hammett award in recognition of his “commitment to free expression and courage in the face of political persecution.” In 2012, he was awarded the ‘Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write’ Award by the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, and also honored by the PEN International.

Dolma Kyab's painting of a nomad woman
Dolma Kyab’s painting of a nomad woman

In 2007, the PEN Tibetan Writers Abroad published Dolma Kyab’s manuscript of “Restless Himalayas” in Tibetan and Chinese; the Tibetan translation was done in Tibet. In the book, he wrote, “You might think I am being stupid. If looked from another perspective, you might see that I am standing for freedom in front of the enemy’s gun. Whatever it is, we are doing this for freedom.” In one of his writings titled “A letter Dedicated to Fellow Tibetans”, he wrote, “There is no need to fear, no need to cry, we will surely triumph! You, my dear fellow Tibetans, we must strive hard and succeed. One day we will excel and shine!”

Dolma Kyab dedicated his book ‘Restless Himalayas’ to the Tibetan people, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his parents and siblings. He had planned to donate any proceeds from the sale of the book to the welfare of children’s education: 30 percent for the education of poor Tibetan children, another 30 percent for the education of poor Chinese children, 15 of the remaining 40 percent for Tibetan Transit School in Dharamsala where he had been a student.

Dolma Kyab (pen-name Lobsang Kelsang Gyatso) was born in 1976 in Dharlung nomadic camp no. 4 in Donglung Township of Dola County, Tsojang (Ch: Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Son of Mr Khetsun and Mrs Dolma, he has five sisters and four brothers. He studied at the local primary school and the county middle school, further studying history and geography at Qinghai Normal University and graduated in 1999. He had been a teacher at Dola County Middle School before he completed postgraduate studies at Beijing University.

 A sketch of a lion by Dolma Kyab
A sketch of a lion by Dolma Kyab

In 2003, after graduation from Beijing University, Dolma Kyab left for India. In India, he studied English at Tibetan Transit School near Dharamsala and at the same time began writing in Chinese the book, Sao dong de Ximalayashan (Tib: Lhing ‘jags med pa’i Himalaya; Eng: ‘The Restless Himalayas’). In May 2004, after his return to Tibet, he began working as a geography teacher in a middle school in Lhasa city where he also started work on his next book on Tibetan geography. He could not finish writing this book due to his sudden detention.

Below is a translation of Dolma Kyab’s letter written the day he was sentenced:







The UN Human Rights Council;

International Women’s Groups;

International Environmental Protection Organizations

and the UNESCO


I have just been sentenced to ten years. The main reason is my unpublished book, ‘The Restless Himalayas’. In the book, I have mainly written about democracy, freedom, the issue of Tibet, etc. And chiefly for this reason, I was sentenced. However, if we look at it from the lens of Chinese legal system, the charge of inciting separatism does not apply to this book or its content. Therefore, they also charged me of espionage. Not only this, they ignored the reality of the situation and without any evidence, they forcibly charged me of being a spy and announced the verdict.

The official explanation for my sentencing is as follows:

  1. The Chinese authorities told me I had earlier suggested exile Tibetan government in India to put more efforts in environment protection and women’s health and welfare. The authorities interpreted this as part of my activities to promote Tibetan independence and forced this verdict on me.
  2. Although I had started writing a book on Tibetan environment, I had still not finished it but they accused me of indulging in espionage and sending information outside Tibet. Without any due process of law, they decided that writing about geography was akin to promoting Tibetan independence. Hearing about such groundless reasoning, I am reminded of the execution of the great Italian philosopher and cosmologist Giordano Bruno in the year 1600, on the orders of the Roman Pope because he had proposed that the sun, not the Earth, was at the centre of the solar system.
  3. Without listening to what the other person had to say and without conducting proper investigation, they passed the verdict based solely on unrestrained power. Therefore, when UN representatives visited Lhasa from 26 to 27 November, they moved me to another location to prevent any disclosure of information if I met with the UN group.

Thus, I would like to tell the international community that I am still not convinced I was sentenced in a fair and just manner. They sentenced me because they considered my call for protection of endangered Tibetan antelopes, and freedom and compassion among Tibetan nomadic community as Tibetan independence activities. I consider it an unimaginably appalling event in the modern history of humanity, that one could be sent to prison for 10 years for creating awareness about environment protection, women’s healthcare, birth control, personal hygiene, or writing about the natural geography.


They took away my freedom, but they can never take away my ardent belief in the power of advocating for environment protection and women’s education and healthcare. They can kill me, but they can never kill my love for nature. Likewise, studying about human beings and nature, human beings and mother, and natural environment has become a common priority issue for the whole humanity. I am determined in this belief after considering it from all perspectives.


I request all organizations to give due consideration and attention to this matter.


In the name of espionage, they are violating all principles of freedom and democracy. On the other hand, they will use this as their achievement in their work reports.


Dolma Kyab

30 November 2005



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