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A Tibetan girl and her brother near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Photo: TPIDharamsala: Tsering Samdup is an ex-political prisoner of 6 years whose mother and sister were arrested last year following the uprisings in Tibet. "I was born in Phenpo, north of Lhasa, in 1986. In 1994 I partook in a demonstration in Lhasa, chanting the slogans: 'Independence for Tibet,' 'China out of Tibet,' 'Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama,' "Human Rights and Freedom of Religion in Tibet.' We protested for 5 minutes before 11 district police officers arrested my 3 fellow protesters and me by holding our hands behind our backs. We continued to chant slogans, and they responded by inserting their fingers into our mouths. When we arrived at the police station near the great temple in Lhasa, 15 additional officers beat us with belts and ashtrays.

Afterward, we were forcefully loaded into a windowless truck, and transported to a detention Center. The guards tortured us with sticks and electric shock apparatus for half an hour. There are a few different types of electric zappers: one kind, if utilized, can leave a person unconscious for 7 minutes; another is topped with two ends which can cut the skin; the third flashes electricity to inflict pain. We were forced to stand in the nude in the prison hallway between 4:00 and 9:00 in the evening. After 9:00, we were separated and transferred to our cells. The center contained 4 blocks; I resided in Room 1 of Block 3 with 13 other prisoners who, when I entered, told me that my face was covered in blood. I was 19 years old.

The 'integration' program began shortly after we arrived. When I was arrested, I was holding a Tibetan flag in my hand. The guards shouted, 'You must have been undermined; you are far too young.' They demanded that I draw the design of the Tibetan flag, and I told them that I could not draw. Then they placed my hands under the legs of a chair and sat on it. Prisoners were frequently forced to remain in a standing position for hours at a time, and even forced into a narrow chimney to be burned by its steam. I was beaten 3 times a day.

I spent 4 months in the detention center. In the morning we received 2 small steamed rolls and a cup of black tea. The rolls were always covered with flies. In the evening we were given 2 rolls and rotten vegetables, in which we frequently found worms. Twice the prison officials drew my blood, informing me that this was the charge for the food I consumed.

In September 1994 I was called to the Peoples' Meter Court in Lhasa. Political prisoners are not granted legal representation. I was convicted as a 'counter-revolutionary' for 6 years, combined with an additional 3 years without political rights after release; my friends received sentences of 5 years in prison, and periods of 2 years without political rights following their release. The public is forbidden to attend court proceedings.

I was one of the 8 people transferred to a prison after the hearing. It contained 2 units; the second was under construction and housed the new political prisoners. We were forced to perform Chinese military exercises. The army officials made us stand stones between our legs as punishment. In the summertime the guards shaved the prisoners' heads and left them under the sun. In the wintertime prisoners were forced to sit in pools of ice-water or to stand on the ice without shoes. The winter program also involved the study of Chinese propaganda. We were instructed to sign forms declaring that we had been successfully 'reeducated.' Those who refused were subjected to torture. I stayed in the new political prisoners' unit for 1 year, until I was transferred to the old political prisoners' quarters. The facility contained about 600 political prisoners.

Prisoners with serious illnesses were given nothing more than painkillers. Once when I was barely conscious I was sent to a police hospital in Lhasa. Conducting an x-ray was deemed too expensive, and essential fluids were removed from my spine. After my release, Tibetan doctors confirmed that the procedure had been both dangerous and unnecessary.

In May 1994 the new non-political prisoners demonstrated against the installation of Chinese national flags in their cells within the prison. They demanded improvements, and held a hunger strike. Eight inmates died, some as a result of torture, others due to the lack of medical treatment available..

In May 1998 a number of the prisoners held a strike, proclaiming, 'We want to die together! You have killed our people. Respect human rights!' I heard a gun-shot. One monk from Gaden died; he was 21 years old. A guard had shouted, 'If you want freedom, I'll give you freedom,' while beating him with wooden boards. He had tried to protect his head by ducking under the table. Although he could barely walk, the guard insisted that he was pretending, dragged him down the stairs, and transferred him to the empty room in which he died. I saw him in his last moments, his face full of blood. He left a message: 'I am sorry I cannot continue my work. I could not bear the suffering.'

The level of torture practiced within the prison walls increased between May and August. The Chinese Peoples' Security Bureau located in the Lhasa area sent 21 police officers to each room of 12 detainees for the purpose of torturing them. Another man died, leaving the message: 'Good luck to you all.' After one beating I returned to my cell to find prisoners with broken arms and legs. The prisoners protested by attempting to break down the prison gate; 260 inmates participated, and the prison officials opened fire. One political prisoner was shot in the abdomen. He was taken to the hospital, where a prison guard removed his bandage and used an electric zapper on his wound, while mocking his struggle for humane treatment. The shirt I wore during this demonstration is on display at the Guchusum Tibetan movement of Ex-Political Prisoners in Dharamsala, India.

Ngawan Dorjee, a man from Rinpong county who suffers from leprosy, was accused of throwing dust into the face of an army officer during the course of the prison demonstration despite the fact that his hands are stiff and immobile. The Chinese Constitution ensures adequate care for the handicapped, but this is not put into practice. His sentence was extended by two and a half years, and his mental state continuously deteriorated. A guard once struck him on the forehead with an iron bar. People are strange. Some are easy to die; others are very strong. He has a hole in his head, but he's still alive.

After the prison demonstrations, conditions progressively worsened. Two others succumbed to injuries, one of whom originated from India. He was hit on the head with an electric heater and died in solitary confinement. During the course of my sentence, 12 people died in the male unit. In the female section, 4 nuns perished. We were denied visits with family members between May and August. After August, families once again brought food and other necessities to the prisoners, which the guards kept for themselves. Over the course of 5 years, the prison guards sold tins of dried meat back to the prisoners. At the end of the summer, security cameras were installed in the cells and prisoners were no longer allowed to leave their cells, except to empty the communal water bucket. Non-political prisoners were then forced to reside with political ones.

Prior to my release in 2000, I had studied Chinese law. The Constitution states that discharged prisoners possess the same rights as other citizens. However, shortly after I was released from prison, the authorities confiscated my funds and forbid me from participating in meetings. They attempted to extract information concerning my whereabouts from my friends thereafter. I purchased a restaurant in Phenpo county for 9,000 yen; the authorities took issue with its name and forced me to close it down. I sold it for 5,000 yen, thus losing 4,000 yen. I eventually found employment in the private sphere, but Chinese government officials pressured my employers to discharge me.

I was left with no other option but to escape into exile in 2005. After 21 days in the Himalayas, I crossed the border into Nepal. I was reacquainted with humanity. During the course of my sentence, I only met one Chinese guard who exhibited compassion by asking me if I was in pain after I had been tortured. Most prison officials beat with such hateful passion that they themselves are end up in tears. He told me that, 'We do this because we must make a living. We have no choice.'"

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