Tanak Jigme Sangpo released on medical grounds

Thursday, 4 April 2002

Tanak Jigme Sangpo, Tibet's longest serving political prisoner, is released on medical parole
Jigme Sangpo, a former primary school teacher and a robust advocate of Tibetan independence, was released from Drapchi prison on medical parole on 31 March 2002. Now 76 years old, he had spent much of the last 40 years in prison on a series of sentences related to 'counter-revolutionary' and 'reactionary' activities, including putting up a poster which criticised China for oppressing the Tibetan people (see profile).

In 1991, Jigme Sangpo shouted "Free Tibet" when a Swiss delegation were visiting Drapchi prison. His sentence was extended by a further eight years as a result, but this repercussion prompted the Swiss government to actively press China for his release. He had eight years remaining of his current 28 year sentence and is understood to be staying with relatives in Lhasa.

"The release of Jigme Sangpo, who is one of the bravest and most resilient of advocates of Tibetan independence, is a welcome indication that pressure on China can have an effect." said Alison Reynolds, Director of Free Tibet Campaign. "However, the political situation in Tibet remains unchanged and it is this that the international community must now focus its efforts in persuading China to address. Without progress here, such releases will appear to be no more than token gestures, designed to curtail international criticism."

Jigme Sangpo's release follows that of Ngawang Choephel in January 2002, the first Tibetan political prisoner to benefit from Chinese largesse associated with an important political event; in Ngawang's case the summit in February between George W Bush and Jiang Zemin. Chinese pro-democracy activists had been released in the past linked to other US/China summits. However, it is believed that the Chinese authorities had offered medical parole to Jigme Sangpo some time ago possibly, given his age, because they feared negative publicity if he were to die in prison. Additionally, China has come under pressure from western nations who hold bilateral human rights dialogues with China to make more effort to show that these mechanisms can yield tangible results. China may hope that the release of Ngawang Choephel and Jigme Sangpo will silence these criticisms.

For more information contact: Alison Reynolds, 020 7833 9958, Mobile 07711 843884

Profile of Jigme Sangpo