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.
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
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.
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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'
"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.
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
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.