Tibetan monk released from prison in poor health after serving two-year sentence

A Tibetan Buddhist monk serving a jail sentence for “sending money for prayer offerings” to the Dalai Lama and to the abbot of his monastery has been released from jail and has returned to the monastery, people in Tibet who are familiar with the situation said.

Authorities arrested Sonam Gyatso on April 3, 2021, while he was vacationing in Chengdu. On Tuesday, he was freed from Menyang Prison near the city of Chengdu in southwest China’s Sichuan province, after completing his two-year sentence, the sources said. 

On Thursday, he returned to Kirti Monastery in Sichuan’s Ngaba county in poor health because of torture and maltreatment in prison, they said. 

Chinese authorities arrested Gyatso, his sister Tsering Lhamo, and another Kirti Monastery monk, Rachung Gendun, for allegedly sending money for prayer offerings to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, and the head of the monastery through Lobsang Thokmey, the monastery’s manager all of whom live in exile in Dharamsala, India. 

Chinese authorities consider it illegal for Tibetans to contact other Tibetans living in exile and are particularly sensitive about any contact with the Dalai Lama, who fled to India 74 years ago and has been living in Dharamsala ever since. Beijing considers him a separatist seeking to destroy China’s sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.

The three were sentenced to different jail terms, though Lhamo was released this April. Upon release, she sought medical treatment in a Chengdu hospital because she was weak, said one of the sources who declined to be identified for safety reasons. 

Gendrun is still serving a 3.5-year sentence after being sentenced in July 2022. He also had strongly opposed the Chinese government’s “patriotic education” campaign in which Chinese and trusted Tibetan officials forced Buddhist monks and nuns to accept the concept of the unity of China and Tibet, a source with knowledge of the situation previously told RFA. 

Gyatso became a monk at a young age and studied Buddhism at the Kirti Monastery, obtaining the Geshe degree, a higher academic degree in Buddhist philosophy. He later worked in the monastic department and became a mentor to others at Kirti Monastery, where he frequently experienced problems with local Chinese authorities. 

China maintains firm control of the restive Tibet Autonomous Region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity as Buddhists. Tibetans frequently complain of discrimination and human rights abuses by authorities as well as policies they say are aimed at wiping out their national and cultural identity.

Translated by Rigdhen Dolma. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.