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(June 6th—This Week: California Exhibit and Lhasa Demolition)
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Metaphor for Tibetan freedom: Protests against Legchog
By Topden Tsering

June 4, 2002: To inhabit a free world is a curious affair. In it, one takes for granted his right to pursue the truth. To stand up against falsehood presents itself as his highest duty. Two dynamics, seemingly consistent, they sometimes assume the most conflicting forces. Especially when caught in the politics of trade is the issue of freedom. Real Freedom.

At such times disappear, like the desert sand, all distinctions between the righteous and the evil. Each unto the other becomes a mirror image, the guardian of justice and the peddler in tyranny, arm-locked in some ludicrous "California 'TAR' Sister State" relation venture. And left bleeding on the sidewalks is the just cause of the Tibetan people. The steel-toed boots, the bloodstained batons, those grimaces in viciousness, it would've been hard to tell to whom they belonged. Whether to soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army or that of San Francisco City Police?

Tenzin Samdup Khangsar (Tensam) could have opted to stay home June 3; another Asian face obscured by a homogenized American routine of basketball games and Blockbuster. But this 21-year-old college student made time to assert his Tibetan identity. He showed up at a protest for a homeland he had never seen, from where had escaped his parents a full two decades before his birth; and which to him was familiar only through the picture of the Potala Palace at his Albany home.

He was with some 40 other Tibetan protestors and supporters, holding banners and placards, when before them passed, shielded by security personnel, the 'TAR' governor Legchog and his delegation. "Free Tibet", "Trade before Human Rights", shouted the demonstrators. Spittle flew and eggs smashed against the delegation's vehicles as protestors burst forth with emotions. Before long, three police officers had their knees dug into Tensam's back while another clubbed him on his head, repeatedly. During the chaotic stretch of time it took for the police to bring him to his feet and haul him into a van, a bright red glistened on Tensam's head - he was bleeding from an elongated gash above his forehead. He and 20-year-old Tenzin Choephel were placed under arrest and driven away, still shouting "Free Tibet".

The Chinese delegation was leaving the World Affairs Council building where some 30 Bay Area Tibetans and supporters had disrupted Legchog's speech on "The Status of Tibet and Future Outlook." While the 'TAR' governor spewed in Chinese with the help of a translator one dry statistic after another - on Tibet's GDP, its agricultural productions, its increasing number of schools and highways - protestors silently displayed pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetan national flags. Banners in Chinese reading: "China: Negotiate with the Dalai Lama", "The End is Near For China's Communism" flashed from amongst the audience while Legchog uneasily shifted, from one elbow to another, upon the podium stand.

All questions had to be written down on cards, to be asked by the moderator. Legchog professed surprise and ignorance when asked about the ban in Tibet on the pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. "As far as I know, no one has been arrested or imprisoned for owning pictures of Dalai Lama," he said. When asked about the 11th Panchen Lama, Legchog shot back: "Which one?" At this, a shrill jeering passed through the crowd. He added: "Both the Panchen Lamas are growing up to be dutiful citizens of Chinese motherland." Two or three of such questions and the moderator quickly wrapped up the event.

During the question and answer session, one Tibetan protestor had shouted at Legchog: "If you are a Tibetan and are here to represent Tibet, why do you speak in Chinese and not in Tibetan?" He replied in Tibetan: "If I spoke in Tibetan, they wouldn't understand me." He was pointing towards a sprinkle of American listeners. A loud laughter broke out from the audience, more than half of which comprised of Bay area Tibetan protestors. Two Tibetan women had been kicked out of the hall for grilling Legchog with such and more extempore questions.

Tenzin Choephel was released a couple of hours later from the police station where had converged some two dozens of worried Tibetan protestors. Tensam was charged with Felony, for 'resisting arrests', hence an immediate release was out of question. A police lieutenant had said that both the Tibetan protestors were okay. Only later did the gathered Tibetans come to know about the gash on Tensam's head, his blood splattered all over his T-shirt, the multiple bruises on his back. The police spokesman had said two officers had been seriously wounded and were in a hospital. This later became one wounded officer with a broken hand. Then the fractured hand-version changed to sprained wrist. Still Tensam's charges read thus: a false bomb report and four accounts of batteries. Waiting for us at the county jail was the notification of his bail amount: $65,000.

Ghen Tseten Lhamo la, Tensam's mother and herself an untiring protestor, later said about her son's beatings and arrest: "I might be shedding tears from my eyes, but in my heart I am very proud of my son, happy that he has gotten a chance to do something for Tibet, even if it comes at the price of a gash on his head and a lot of blood." While driving to the police station to inquire about her son's fate, she said to me: "If this were Tibet, I might never see my son again."

Tensam was finally released the same night after the payment of a $ 3,000 bond. The bail amount had miraculously come down to $21,000, something that the county jail people explained away as simple miscomputing on their part. Many protestors read into it the San Francisco police at their politics. A show of legal intimidation first, which foiled by the rock-solid solidarity with Tensam from the Tibetans and their supporters, a reversion to the defensive, terrified that the Tibetans might sue them for police brutality. Speculations also milled around that the Chinese delegation had arm-twisted the city police into severely cracking down on Tibetan protestors, "to make up for the humiliations Legchog had to go through the past couple of weeks at the hands of Bay Area Tibetan protestors," as someone put it.

A hectic day of following up on Tenzin's legal case later, my phone rings at around just before midnight. "When is the next protest?" asks a young voice, belonging to a Tibetan teenager. I tell him that depends on the next reliable information we get about Legchog's schedule. A pause, followed by a hectic discussion among excited voices on the other end. "My friends here say we should have a hunger strike in that case, so that Legchog will know our protests are far from over."

Acknowledgement: Thanks Sasha and Henry from San Francisco, Miguel and Thupten Tsering From Students for Free Tibet (SFT), and all Tibetan protestors and supporters for your Semshug. The protest was jointly organized by San Francisco Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (SFRTYC) and Tibetan Association of Northern California (TANC).


No sister-state relationship between CA and Tibet until TIBET IS FREE!

Please take part in this URGENT ACTION!

Click here to send emails to the California State Senate, telling them that there will be no sister-state relationship between Tibet and California until TIBET IS FREE. Ask them to pressure Lekchoe, Chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, to end his crackdowns on Tibetans inside of Tibet. http://actionnetwork.org//campaign/sftca

Tomorrow, May 29, the California State Senate will receive Lekchoe, Chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to discuss the establishment of a sister-state relationship between California and Tibet. Lekchoe has ruled in Tibet with an iron fist and has become well known for his harsh campaign against Tibetan support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tibetans inside Tibet have suffered much under Lekchoe’s rule.

Just to give you an idea of Lekchoe's policies, here is a quote from him in the Agence France Presse:

"We must expose and criticize the Dalai Lama group so the peasants and herdsmen can recognize its reactionary nature and they can confidently and firmly maintain the ethnic unity of the motherland and have a clear stand against the Dalai lama group and against splittism."

A sister-state relationship between California and the Tibetan Autonomous Region would acknowledge that the TAR is a State of China, instead of part of a nation under illegal occupation. Moreover, a sister-state relationship would signal California’s approval of the Chinese government’s brutal policies of repression and gross human rights violations against the Tibetan people.

China’s motivation behind this absurd plan is to encourage California businesses to invest in Tibet. However, most of the projects the Chinese government encourages in Tibet are politically motivated, and aim to turn Tibet into a resource extraction colony. So far, China’s so-called “ Go West Campaign” has brought no benefits to the Tibetan people – rather, it has marginalized them economically and has stripped their land if its natural resources.

American business and government must not profit from China’s exploitation of Tibet, and must certainly not lend their approval to China’s continued oppression of the Tibetan people.

A sister-state relationship between California and the Tibetan Autonomous Region is a ridiculous idea. There will be no sister-state relationship between California and Tibet, until TIBET IS FREE.



SFT is overjoyed to announce that Tanak Jigme Sangpo, Tibet's longest-serving political prisoner, has been freed! Having suffered 32 years in prison for his unyielding belief in Tibetan freedom, Jigme Sangpo is one of Tibet's great freedom fighters.

Tanak Jigme Sangpo and Ngawang Choephel are free because of international pressure. We must work extra hard now to make sure that the same becomes true for the Drapchi Nuns!

>From the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT):

Tanak Jigme Sangpo, Tibet's longest serving political prisoner, was released in Lhasa on March 31, 2002. The 76-year-old Sangpo was reportedly released on medical parole and is currently staying with his niece, Pema Chozom a retired teacher, in Lhasa. Chozom had often visited Sangpo when he was in prison.

The release of Sangpo was expected for some time, particularly after Chinese government officials began to send signals to members of Congress that they were prepared to let Sangpo out for medical treatment. However, the Chinese authorities said that Sangpo did not wish to be released. It is not known under what conditions Sangpo may not have wished to be release, if at all.

"The International Campaign for Tibet welcomes the release of Tanak Jigme Sangpo," International Campaign for Tibet President John Ackerly said. "He represents the indomitable spirit of the Tibetan people and we hope that the Chinese authorities will not re-arrest him if he openly speaks with visitors," Ackerly added.

"While the release of individual prisoners is vital, if China keeps arresting other Tibetans to be used as bargaining chips, the cycle of human misery in Tibet will remain unchanged," said Ackerly.

The Swiss government and the United States had taken an active interest in the case of Sangpo. In addition to the State Department, Congressman Tom Lantos was among those who took a lead on Sangpo's behalf. During his visit to China in January this year, Lantos took up Sangpo's case with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing.

In a statement upon hearing of Sangpo's release, Lantos said, "I am grateful that the Chinese released Tanak Jigme Sangpo from captivity on humanitarian grounds, and am relieved that the ailing Tibetan can enjoy his sunset years in freedom." "I urge the Chinese to make further progress in releasing political prisoners and restoring the human rights of its citizens," Congressman Lantos said.

Sangpo's release comes as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is having its annual session in Geneva. China's treatment of the Tibetan people was raised by several governments, which called for satisfactory autonomy and self-determination in Tibet. It also comes as the European Union's Commissioner for External Relations, Chris Patten, who is currently visiting China, called for the resumption of dialogue between the Chinese leadership and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Born 1926, Tanak Jigme Sangpo was reportedly first arrested in 1960 while teaching at Lhasa Primary School and charged with 'corrupting the minds of children with reactionary ideas.' In 1964 he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in Sangyip Prison over comments regarding Chinese repression of Tibetans, and he was then sent to labor camp in Lhasa. In 1970 he was sentenced to ten years hard labor in Sangyip Prison on charges of inciting his niece to escape to India to report Chinese atrocities to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Tanak Jigme Sangpo was released from prison in 1979 and transferred to the Reform-Through-Labor Unit 1 in Nyethang, west of Lhasa, but he was arrested again on September 3, 1983, by the Lhasa City Public Security Bureau.

In the official sentence paper, issued on November 30, 1983, the Lhasa City Intermediate People's Court noted that the defendant had evidently never seriously re-considered his past "counter-revolutionary crimes". He was therefore charged with "spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda" and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in addition to five years deprivation of civil and political rights. On December 1, 1988, Tanak was again prosecuted for raising "reactionary slogans" relating to Chinese suppression of Tibet whilst in Drapchi prison (also called the "Tibet Autonomous Region" Prison). Found once more guilty of "spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda," his sentence was increased by five years and the period of deprivation of civil and political rights extended a further year.

Tanak was subsequently sentenced on April 4, 1992, to a further eight years' imprisonment and an additional three years deprivation of civil and political rights. This brings his current sentence to 28 years, and had his sentenced been carried on to term to September 2011, he would have spent 41 years in prison.

A Lifetime of Struggle

1960 Age 34. Working as a teacher at the Lhasa Primary School he is detained and charged with "corrupting the minds of children with reactionary ideas."

1964 Age 38. Sentenced to three years imprisonment in Sangyip prison for making comments regarding Chinese repression of Tibetans. He is later sent to a labor camp in Lhasa.

1970 Age 44. Re-arrested and sentenced to ten years hard labor in Sangyip prison on charges of inciting his niece to escape to India to report Chinese atrocities to the Dalai Lama.

1979 Age 53. Released from prison and transferred to the "Reform-through-Labor Unit No. 1" in Nyethang (60 km west of Lhasa)

1983 Age 57. He is seen on July 12, openly pasting a "personally written" poster on the main gate of the Tsuklagkhang Temple, Lhasa. Rearrested on September 3 by the Lhasa City Public Bureau. Sentenced for the third time on November 30, to 15 years imprisonment for "spreading and inciting counterrevolutionary propaganda," with an additional 5 years deprivation of political rights. His official sentencing papers, issued by the Lhasa City Intermediate People's Court, state that he "has previously served prison terms on the guilt of counterrevolutionary crimes, but has never seriously reconsidered his past counterrevolutionary crimes."

1987 Age 61. In support of the mass demonstrations nearby in Lhasa, he stages his own protest on October 5, by shouting slogans when the prisoners are gathering for breakfast.

1988 Age 62. In Drapchi Prison, more than a year after his 1987 protest, he is persecuted for raising "reactionary slogans" concerning Chinese suppression. He is found guilty on November 30, of "Spreading and inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda." His sentence is extended by 5 years. His deprivation of political rights is extended by one year.

1991 Age 65. Leads a protest on December 6, from within his cell in Drapchi prison, during a visit by Swiss government officials. Prisoners shout pro-independence and pro-Dalai Lama slogans, which are heard by the delegation. He is consequently beaten and put in solitary confinement for six weeks. According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy: Tanak Jigme Sangpo was dragged from the room after the delegation was requested to leave, and beaten so severely that his body became numb.

1992 Age 66. On April 4, his sentence is further increased by eight years and an additional three years deprivation of civil and political rights bringing his current sentence to 28 years.

1998 Age 72. Demonstrations occur in Drapchi on May 1 & 4, among both criminal and political prisoners, during Chinese flag raising ceremonies. The repercussions include wide scale, prolonged beatings and reports of deaths from maltreatment. He is reportedly isolated in solitary confinement, interrogated and beaten.

2002, March 31 - RELEASED BY CHINA at age 76.

2011 Age 85. By his release date on September 3, Tanak Jigme Sangpo would have spent 41 years of his life in prison.