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4june20092Dharamshala: Jampa Tashi is an ex-political prisoner of 12 years and a member of the Gu-Chu-Sum Ex-Political Prisoners' Association in Dharamsala, India. "I was born in the Kham region of Tibet. I was a farmer and had no access to educational opportunities. This motivated me to become involved in political issues. Before that time I had no idea that a world existed outside of Tibet. I only looked after sheep and cows. In either 1986 or 1987, when I was 17 years old, I joined a Monastery in eastern Tibet. The facility had been destroyed by the Chinese government; the 25 monks lived in small houses instead. There I learned Tibetan and Buddhist philosophy. The monastery was forbidden to accept new monks. We tried to repair the monastery. The Chinese government claimed that we had the right to liberty and freedom of expression, but we could not practice our religion by praying to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In 1994, 5 of my friends and I demonstrated for human rights in Tibet. We aimed to be heard by the state. The Chinese government had insisted that it had made improvements in the field of human rights but in actuality we had no rights. I tried to fight for these rights. For offenses of a small nature we were treated as criminals. Monks were imprisoned without access to legal representation. I was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison, and my friends received 15-year sentences. Is this justice? When I was captured I was not allowed to meet with anyone until the day of my sentencing. Even criminals in free societies have the right to counsel. After our hearing, 3 of my friends and I were transported to a Chinese prison, the largest prison in eastern Tibet, harboring criminals who are serving sentences of 10 years or longer. I spent 12 years of my life there, between 1994 and 2006. I was tortured for inquiring about Chinese policy. There was no food to eat, no place to sit comfortably; I was given only a bed sheet. The prisoners were instructed to break down stone into smaller pieces, to clean the public toilets, or to work in the fields and farm. We did everything with our own hands.

The prison had 3 units which housed a total of about 400 inmates, 12 of whom were political prisoners. The first and second for Tibetans and the third for Chinese. The conditions were very poor. In the morning we were given Barley Tsamba filled with rabbit and mouse droppings. I felt nauseous when it was placed in front of me. For lunch we received a morsel of pig meat, consisting mainly of fat and skin. Many prisoners suffered physically due to the poor quality of the food and accommodation, and the lack of medical care. Some prisoners could not stand on their own feet.  The Chinese government gave special treatment to the Chinese prisoners; their food was of a higher quality and they received larger portions of rice.

During the course of my sentence a friend of mine, Tashi Tsering, became a martyr. He was tortured, naked, until he could not speak properly and finally succumbed to insanity. He had done nothing wrong. He was detained by the Chinese and subsequently accused of espionage only because he had studied in India. He was 32 or 33 at the time, and is still serving his 15-year sentence. We cannot even imagine the extent of his suffering.

By the time I was released in 2006, I had learned much about China's occupation of Tibet from my fellow prisoners. I could not remain in Tibet due to the limiting and restrictive nature of Chinese law. I urge the free world to experience the reality of Tibet in order to distinguish between fact and fiction. You must connect with people inside of Tibet, despite China's stance as an undoubtedly powerful nation.

After my release I could hardly recognize my own small village, which lies on top of a mountain. I was once a beautiful sight, without vehicles, and only accessible via a footpath. The Chinese government had authorized the clearing of the forest in order to build a road to transport Chinese convoys to and from the village and the surrounding towns. The village I had known and loved had been destroyed. The Chinese government claims that it has established roadways, hospitals and schools - but these entities were built for the sole benefit of the Chinese people. Luxurious structures will not improve the lives of ordinary Tibetans. We need to preserve Tibet's natural resources, yet construction obliterates them.

Rural areas need the most improvement; there are no facilities in these under-developed regions. When I returned to my village I felt alienated due to the alterations made by the Chinese. Human rights had been rendered obsolete, and I could not live freely. The police would frequently raid my family's home. I could not join a monastery or participate in organized functions; I was lacking in support and could do nothing but stay at home. I escaped to India in 2007. I left by myself and hired a guid for 6,000 rupees. When I arrived I enrolled in school at Gu Chu Sum to study Tibetan philosophy, the English language and computer programming; I now have access to an education and the opportunities I hope it will bring."

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