I know that doing things, even contributing one’s life to the cause of a nation, raises very difficult questions. I would rather use my words to talk to other people than be an example to lead other people. (Dolma Kyab)
Tibet formally became an autonomous region of China, known as the TAR, in 1965. The Chinese leadership continues to deny political freedom there, and is particularly sensitive to anything written or spoken about Tibetan issues. They also actively seek to curtail the Dalai Lama’s political and religious influence, and any display of support for an independent Tibet is effectively suppressed. According to a report by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), ‘As political repression in Tibet intensifies, Tibetans are more often turning to education, arts and religion for ways to express their culture and identity.’
In December 2004, in these pages, I wrote about Ven Ngawang Phulchung, a senior monk from Drepung Monastery, near Lhasa, who is serving a nineteen-year sentence for producing pro-independence literature. The following year there was an intensive ‘patriotic re-education’ campaign carried out in monasteries throughout the TAR. In November 2005, a young monk died during a ‘re-education’ session in Drepung Monastery, resulting in a mass sit-in protest by the monks demanding an end to the campaign. Many Tibetans with political backgrounds or former political prisoners were either expelled from Lhasa or placed under detention.
Around the same time another young Tibetan was imprisoned for having fallen foul of China’s restrictions on freedom of expression about Tibetan issues. It was only this year, on receipt of a letter he sent from prison, that news began to trickle through to human rights organisations of the secret trial and detention of 29-year-old Dolma Kyab. The writer and teacher had been sentenced to ten years in prison for a book on Tibet that has not even be published.
Dolma Kyab was born in the ethnically Tibetan province of Qinghai. He trained and worked as a teacher before studying history and geography at Qinghai Normal University, graduating in 1999. He also holds a Master’s degree from Beijing University. Dolma Kyab travelled to India in 2003 and studied English and Hindu in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan government are based, before returning to Tibet in 2004 to take up teaching again.
Using a pen name, Lobsang Kelsang Gyatso, Dolma Kyab has written about the concept of Tibetan identity and sovereignty. His 57-chapter book, hand-written in Chinese and variously translated as Restless Himalayas or The Himalayas in Turmoil, covers an array of topics including democracy, Tibetan history and religion.
According to information received in July 2006 by the international writers’ association, PEN, Dolma Kyab was sentenced on charges of ‘endangering state security’. He was arrested on 9 March 2005 in Lhasa, where he was teaching history at a middle school. He was initially held, pending trial, at the TAR Public Security Bureau Detention Centre, popularly known as ‘Seitru’. He was sentenced on 16 September 2005 and the sentence was upheld on appeal on 30 November 2005. In March of this year he was transferred to Chushul Prison, and is said to remain seriously ill after having contracted tuberculosis whilst detained in Seitru.
At the time of his arrest Dolma Kyab was writing another book, this time on Tibetan geography. The work reportedly contained sensitive material that touched on the location of Chinese military camps in Tibet, and when his home was searched the papers were discovered.
The writer managed to smuggle a letter out of the Chushul Prison, addressing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It was only then that information about the charges against him was revealed. According to ICT, Dolma Kyab’s letter indicates that he was tried for offences involving espionage or ‘state secrets’, and that he was not given a fair trial. Dolma Kyab said that the real reason behind his imprisonment is in retaliation for his unpublished works and, in particular, The Restless Himalayas. He wrote: ‘According to Chinese law, the book alone would not justify such a sentence. So they announced that I am guilty of espionage.’
Often the sort of information deemed ‘state secrets’ by the Chinese authorities would elsewhere be regarded as public knowledge. According to friends, Dolma Kyab was passionate about environmental issues in Tibet. He reportedly gave advice to the Tibetan government in exile on strengthening environmental protection, but the Chinese authorities apparently accused him of giving secret information, outside China, and alleged that his writing on nature and geography was somehow connected to Tibetan independence. The Times quoted from Dolma Kyab’s letter in a recent article: ‘They can kill me but they cannot kill the love of nature, science and geography. I want to keep up my courage … I would like to draw attention to this situation and ask you to help me.’
Readers may like to send appeals expressing serious concern for Dolma Kyab’s health and calling for his release, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory.
Procurator General Mr Jia Chunwang
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Zha Peixin
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49–51 Portland Place
London W1B 4JL
Fax: 0207 636 2981