Lobsang Tenzin

Lobsang Tenzin

  • Name: Lobsang Tenzin
  • Summary: Arrested in 1988 for protesting, he has now spent over half of his life in prison. 
  • Charge: “Principal culprit” in murder charge.
  • Sentence: Death; commuted to 20 Years. Expected release date April 2013.
  • Prison: Chushur (Ch: Qushui) Prison, TAR. 
  • Status: Serious concerns for his deteriorating health. Continued to show outstanding courage in prison. Due for release in 2013.

Lobsang Tenzin was in his mid twenties on 5 March 1988 when he took part in a protest for Tibetan freedom in Lhasa. At the time he was a student at the Tibet University. He was one of five Tibetans charged in relation to the death of a police officer, who fell or was thrown from a window during the protest. In January 1989 Lobsang Tenzin was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve; in 1993 the sentence was commuted so that he would serve a further 20 years in prison term.

During his detention, Lobsang Tenzin has continued to protest against China’s occupation and has repeatedly managed to carry out acts of resistance from his prison cell. In 1989, he wrote a letter expressing support for the ongoing pro-independence demonstrations that was smuggled out to the students of Tibet University.

During the same year he also co-founded a group called “Snow Lion Youth for Tibetan Independence” with three fellow prisoners and several non-prisoners.

When officials discovered the existence of the movement the inmates were brutally beaten and subjected to solitary confinement for 34 days. Lobsang Tenzin was also put in shackles for 17 months. Two prison-mates of Lobsang Tenzin, called Dawa and Migmar Tashi, who co-founded the pro-independence group and were also serving suspended death sentences on murder charges, were executed in 1990 for allegedly planning to escape from prison.

After being released from solitary confinement in 1990, Lobsang Tenzin organized the first known mass protest in Drapchi prison. Following the death of fellow prisoner and activist Lhakpa Tsering, Lobsang Tenzin tore his bed sheet in half and wrote, “We mourn the death of Lhakpa Tsering,” and, “We demand improvements to the conditions of political prisoners,” on the two halves.

During a scheduled break when there were few guards around, Lobsang Tenzin organized a group of 150 prisoners to carry banners and march through the courtyard of the main prison office to demand information about the cause of Lhakpa Tsering’s death. The distance of the courtyard was less than 100 yards but as one prisoner recounted, “that distance seemed like miles, such was the courage required to cover it.”

Despite being completely surrounded at this point by armed guards, Lobsang demanded that Lhakpa Tsering’s death be investigated and that the medical officers and guards involved punished. The day the protest occurred coincided with the day that criminal prisoners were allowed visitors. This ensured that the news of the protest quickly spread throughout Lhasa, generating a large amount of public support for the prisoners.

On 31 March 1991, Lobsang Tenzin was again at the forefront of prisoner resistance. When James Lilley, U.S. Ambassador to China, visited Drapchi prison Lobsang Tenzin and another prisoner, Tenpa Wangdrag, attempted to hand over to the Ambassador a letter listing all the names of prisoners who had been tortured and an appeal for help from the United States government. The letter was confiscated by Lilley’s Chinese interpreter. Lobsang Tenzin and Tenpa Wangdrak were beaten and put in solitary confinement for three weeks.

However, the ensuing international pressure and personal intervention of the Ambassador led to Lobsang Tenzin’s death sentence being commuted to life imprisonment in 1991.

For his bravery and courageous determination to fight against all odds, Lobsang Tenzin became a hero amongst the prisoners at Drapchi. They repeatedly appealed for his release and made sure he was brought extra food rations.

On account of his notoriety, Lobsang Tenzin was soon transferred to Powo Tramo Prison in Kongpo, eastern Tibet. His sentenced was further reduced to 20 years and he is scheduled to be released on April 26, 2013. In 2005, Lobsang Tenzin was again transferred, this time to Chushur prison, where it is believed he is carrying out farm work. In 2011, various sources reported that he was suffering from severe diabetes, which was causing temporary blindness.