Tibetan political activist sentenced to three years

Tsegon Gyal
Tsegon Gyal

21st February 2018

Tsegon Gyal received his sentence in January after spending well over a year in detention

Free Tibet has learned that a prominent Tibetan activist was sentenced to three years in prison last month.

Tsegon Gyal was handed his sentence on 10 January by Tsojang Prefecture Intermediate People's Court after being found guilty of "inciting separatism". He had been in detention since his arrest in December 2016 and will now serve his prison sentence in Dongchuan prison in Xining city.

Out of sight, not out of mind

Following his arrest, Tsegon Gyal was detained in his native Kangtsa County in eastern Tibet, which is governed as part of Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province.

His case gained international attention and a number of human rights and Tibet organisations called on Beijing to free him. In April 2017, during its 78th session, the United Nations working group on Arbitrary Detention specifically criticised the Chinese government for its treatment of Tsegon Gyal and called for his release. 

During his time in detention, Tsegon Gyal was prevented from communicating with the outside world. His parents were only allowed to see him just before his court verdict last month, their first meeting with him since his arrest in 2016.

Tsegon Gyal carried out silent protests while in detention, refusing to respond to his interrogators and protesting that he had not been granted his right to hire a lawyer or to seek legal protection. 

After five months in detention, Tsegon Gyal was put on trial on 3 May 2017. The trial was conducted in secret with no family members or representatives present. Another eight months passed before he received his verdict and sentence. 

No explanation has been given for the long periods of time between his arrest, trial and sentencing, nor has any official public explanation been given for his arrest. Local sources in Tibet have said that his incarceration is linked to an article he posted on his blog in which he criticised the Chinese government’s policies towards ethnic minorities.

A history of activism

Originally a teacher, Tsegon Gyal later joined the county police force as an evidence analyst. He also pursued a career in journalism and worked at Qinghai Tibetan News and Qinghai Legal Daily.

However, in May 1993 Tsegon Gyal was arrested by provincial state security after forming an anti-China group which helped organise pro-independence activities inside Tibet. He was picked up alongside the group's other founders, Lukar Jam and Namlo Yak, who both now reside abroad.

On 28 July 1994, Tsegon Gyal was convicted of espionage and counterrevolutionary crimes and sentenced to 16 years in prison. His arrest drew “widespread condemnation” from the international community, contributing to his relatively early release in 1999.

Since his release he had devoted much of his life to the welfare of his community and fellow Tibetans by organising disability awareness and rehabilitation campaigns. In 2015, he also arranged free food and drinks for Tibetan pilgrims visiting the Tso-ngonpo Lake.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch


In Tibet the Chinese Communist Party oversees what some have called the world's largest open air prison. The authorities have the power to switch the light on and off, peering into Tibetans' emails one moment and making political prisoners vanish from their families and friends, apparently into darkness, the next. Help us push for Tibet's hidden political prisoners to be found and released.