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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Stories from hell told in Spanish court

Stories from hell told in Spanish court

DHARAMSALA, India (IPS) - For former political prisoner Adhe Tapontsang, the 27

years she spent in a Chinese jail for aiding the Tibetan resistance in the

1950s, was sheer hell.

"I'm lucky to be alive," she told IPS. "There were

300 female Tibetan prisoners in the Gothang Gyalgo detention center. Only four

of us survived.''

Adhe Tapontsang or Amah Adhe (Mother Adhe), as she is

affectionately known here, talked about the hunger she and her Tibetan

friendsendured in the Chinese jail.

"Many of us resorted to cutting up

our leather shoes and eating them because were so hungry. The guards would feed

us some sickly looking gruel but that wasn't enough,'' she recalled.

"I

always hoped that a brighter time would come and that one day I would be able to

leave the prison as a free human being and be with my children. But I felt there

was not much chance for experiencing it because everyone around me was dying and

perhaps I would die here also,'' added Tapontsang in reminiscence of her own

suffering.

Tapontsang was released in 1985 and in 1987 she fled

Chinese-occupied Tibet for India, leaving her family behind. She now lives in

Dharamsala, which is the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, at the

foothills of the Himalayas.

"It saddens me to live with my people in a

community of refugees. But it is only in exile that I am free to speak of my

life's joys and sorrows. Until my land is free, I must be in exile,'' she

explained rather nonchalantly.

On Oct 7, 1950, as United Nations troops

under U.S. General Douglas MacArthur crossed the 38th parallel in Korea, 40,000

Chinese soldiers invaded Kham in eastern Tibet - advancing rapidly to the

capital Lhasa, following a military plan laid down by Deng Xiaoping. The Tibetan

forces engaged in several skirmishes, but were soon encircled.

More than

1.2 million Tibetans died in the Chinese invasion and close to 6,000 monasteries

were destroyed by the People's Liberation Army, with thousands rounded up and

imprisoned.

According to the Washington-based International Campaign for

Tibet the use of detention, arrest, imprisonment, and torture of large numbers

of Tibetans continues to be an integral part of China's efforts to suppress

opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet.

"Reasons for arrest can include

printing political leaflets, shouting reactionary slogans, encouraging

reactionary singing, hoisting or possessing the Tibetan flag and participating

in demonstrations," added the human rights lobby group.

This year's U.S.

State Department's annual human rights report goes further. The report said the

Chinese authorities ''continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including

extra-judicial killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public

trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their

political or religious views.''

The State Department report found that

repressive social and political controls continued to limit the fundamental

freedoms of Tibetans and "risked undermining Tibet's unique cultural, religious

and linguistic heritage''.

Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the

seventh century by King Songsten Gampo, and is the primary religion of

contemporary Tibetans.

"The persecution of Tibetans by China over the

last 40-50 years, it's quite a well known thing to the public, but recently

there's a change in the strategy by China, because they are developing

economically," said Ngawang Sangdrol, a young Tibetan nun who spent more than a

decade in prison.

Beijing is pouring billions of dollars of investment

into Tibet, but Sangdrol said this was only to the benefit of the Chinese.

Critics point out that this investment brings with it a flood of Han Chinese

immigration and the destruction of Tibet's cultural heritage.

"The human

rights situation is deteriorating because they (China) want to eradicate the

Tibetan race," said Sangdrol.

Sangdrol's crime at 13 was to shout

''Independence for Tibet'' and ''Long live the Dalai Lama'' during a protest in

the capital Lhasa.

The Buddhist nun's continual defiance against the

authorities won her extended prison sentences, amounting to 23 years in total,

although they were suddenly commuted three years ago ahead of a visit by then

Chinese President Jiang Zemin to U.S. President George W. Bush's Texas

ranch.

But Jiang Zemin together with six other Chinese officials,

including former Prime Minister Li Peng have been named in a criminal lawsuit,

filed late last month in Spain's High Court, for crimes against humanity and

genocide in Tibet.

Supported by 31 legal experts, Tibetan

non-governmental organisations, individuals, Tibet support groups and human

rights organisations, those filing the lawsuit have initiated proceedings that

could open the doors of justice for thousands of Tibetan victims of human rights

abuses.

"In bringing some of the perpetrators of intense human cruelty to

account for their actions, the case will provide the first legal definition of

suffering inflicted upon the Tibetan people," wrote Spanish prosecution lawyer

Jose Elias Esteve in the July issue of the New Delhi-based 'Tibet Review'

publication.

"While retributive justice is a significant aid to

reconciliation, it will be the first occasion that Tibetan victims of Chinese

actions can testify openly about their suffering to a court that is empowered to

sentence the perpetrators and provide the first legally binding judgement on the

nature of the crimes committed on them,'' added Esteve.

Spanish judges

have taken a leading role in prosecuting international human rights crimes using

the so-called doctrine of ''universal justice''. In April, Spain's High Court

sentenced an Argentine former navy captain to 640 years in prison for crimes

against humanity during his country's 1976-1983 ''dirty war'' against

leftists.

But before the accused can be ordered to stand trial, there are

a series of legal provisions that must be complied with. Spanish judges must

first decide that China's legal system does not recognise the crimes that each

defendant stands accused of, and that the same legal system is incapable of

providing a fair trail.

Commenting on the lawsuit, Tapontsang said, ''For

me this is great because we can present a case against China. This is a triumph

not only for the Tibetan people but also for all those who have been supporting

a free Tibet.''

"Let us not forget that the Chinese Communist Party

killed the largest number of people in history - Chinese themselves, Tibetans

and other indigenous people," she concluded.

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