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20may20091Dharamsala: Life in Dawa Sonam’s monastery was rigid; he had to be granted a commission even for water. The older monks told stories of how the Chinese had destroyed 6,000 monasteries in Tibet. The Tibetan public until then had succeeded in rebuilding only a few. One day he and two of his friends left their village to demonstrate in Lhasa, Tibetan capital for a free Tibet.  His friends where aged fifteen and sixteen. He was seventeen years old at the time.

On June 17, 1992, the date tattooed on Dawa’s leg, the three young monks protested in the Lhasa marketplace for five minutes before they were arrested and taken to the police station. They had chanted, “Long Live the Dalai Lama! Complete Independence for Tibet! Return the Dalai Lama to His Homeland! China Out of Tibet!” Upon arrival the guards only asked them for their names before they were separated and beaten, interrogated for half an hour, and loaded into a truck heading for the high-security Kutsa Detention Center in Lhasa. The guard who received them at 11:00 proclaimed, “You’re too young! Someone must have undermined you.” They were tortured until 3:00.

“I was very shy. They guards instructed me to remove all of my clothing in front of two nuns. They wanted to embarrass me in front of my sister. I stood naked for hours. When the guards returned they threw me a little bit of water, and beat me again. An hour later I was assigned to Room 17 in Block 3 of the prison. Carrying my clothes in his hands, I entered a cell to find a monk who made me a light liquid meal, as my mouth was hurting and broken. The next day I was in excruciating pain and could not move. The guards’ way of torture is so impassioned.  They would even get tired after beating us.”

In his first six months in Drachi prison, Dawa was interrogated fifteen times. He received a sentence of five years while his friends were to serve three because the officials denied that he was a minor: “They kept telling me I was eighteen.” He was transferred to the premier prison in Lhasa, containing about 3,000 prisoners, both political and non-political. He received a uniform and was forced to study the facility’s rules and regulations for fifteen days. There were twelve things the prisoners could do and seventeen things that they could not do. He lived in Unit 5, among the 400 political detainees.

“I was instructed to grow vegetables in a greenhouse. Each greenhouse had to generate 14,000 yen per year, and only two prisoners were assigned to this task. I worked in the scorching temperatures, yet was not allowed to eat the vegetables I had harvested myself. The greenhouse was a little bit far from the prison. We were subjected to body-checks upon entering and were led in by guards. In certain ways the authorities trusted the political prisoners because we were not violent. But they worried that we would discuss politics with those on the outside. After some time, we were instructed to conduct exercises in the prison yard instead of working in the greenhouses. Under the hot sun, we were disciplined for making even the slightest move. The elderly and sick prisoners who could not do the two-hundred push-ups were beaten.

It is cold in Tibet in the winter. When water on the ground became ice, we were forced to stand on the ice as punishment. I was forced to take part in the exercises for one and a half years, and then I taught the exercises to the new political prisoners for a year. I was abused when I let them rest. My health was deteriorating. I went to the prison hospital and received only painkillers. I asked for sick-leave, and the guard told me that I should have stayed home on the day of the demonstration. I was placed in solitary confinement for a week. I was given one steamed roll and a cup of black tea twice a day. I was beaten three times a day; twenty-one times in all. My close friend was struck over the head with a pump. He was given a wheelchair but the authorities accused him of exaggerating the severity of his condition. They continued to beat him, along with those who pleaded for the guards to take him to the hospital. In the evening he was finally transported to the health quarter, but it was too late. He died that night.”

Dawa underwent one and a half months of ‘Reeducation.’ Following his release in 1997, authorities wrote a letter to his county’s officials claiming that he had not been sufficiently ‘reeducated,’ instructing them to keep a careful watch. His parents had picked him up at the prison gate. When they returned to their county, he was told that he must acquire permission to leave. But, due to his poor health, he returned to Lhasa to undergo treatment for seven months. In addition to his five-hear prison sentence, the Chinese government had deprived him of two years of political rights. He was not permitted to attend public gatherings at which more than three people were present.

“I was completely dependent on my family for a year. Then I moved to Lhasa to open a restaurant. One month subsequent to its opening, the police demanded that I close it down. I eventually lost every job I had due to police pressure enacted upon my employers. My friend and I opened a shop called ‘Tibet.’ The police shut us down as well, and claimed that it was illegal for us to be in contact. It was then that we decided to escape to India as refugees. We acquired forged documents for 4,000 yen and we reached Nepal in two days and completed a month-long pilgrimage there. I was not educated when I arrived in Dharamsala. Now I can continue my studies; here I can learn English. China will continue to persecute Tibetans and occupy Tibet for its natural resources, as well as the advantages of its high altitudes and scarcely populated land. We Tibetans are hard workers, but there will be no ‘reeducation’ of our minds.”

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