April 4, 2013 | Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy

A long-serving Tibetan political prisoner, Dawa Gyaltsen, now about 47, was released two years earlier than the expected date for exhibiting “good behaviour”, according to information received by TCHRD from exile Tibetan sources having local contacts in Tibet.

He was serving an 18-year prison term when he was released sometime last month. The exact release date cannot be ascertained immediately. The former bank accountant was first detained for distributing and pasting Tibetan independence leaflets.

There has been no statement yet from Chinese authorities regarding Dawa Gyaltsen’s release two years before the expected date. However, Tibetan sources say Dawa Gyaltsen (Ch: Dawa Jianzan) is in poor health, with the limp in one of his legs having worsened over the years due to ill-treatment and torture in prison for 17 years.

It is not uncommon in Tibet for Tibetan political prisoners to die shortly after their release. Many Tibetan political prisoners have died at the hands of prison authorities after succumbing to torture-related injuries.

A former prison mate of Dawa Gyaltsen in Chushul (Ch: Qushui) Prison (and who now lives in India) said it is highly probable that he might have been released due to his poor health. “Ten years ago when I was with him in the prison, I always saw him sick and confined to his cell.”

Dawa Gyaltsen’s condition is said to be critical. His wife, with whom he had two children, had apparently left him during his years of incarceration and moved somewhere else, according to a former Tibetan prisoner (name withheld) who was a cellmate of Dawa Gyaltsen in Chushul Prison. Friends and former prison mates in exile are concerned that Dawa Gyaltsen have few surviving family members and relatives left to care of him.

In 1995, Dawa Gyaltsen, along with his younger brother, Nyima Dhondup, a monk at Nagchu Shapten Monastery and two more monks, Mazo and Agya, from the same monastery, were detained for distributing “political documents”. They were arrested on charges of “inciting counter-revolutionary propaganda” by Lhasa Public Security Bureau (PSB) personnel.

Dawa Gyaltsen was labeled as the “ringleader” and in May 1997, sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. His brother, Nyima Dhondup, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Mazo and Agya each received eight years’ imprisonment.

Initially, all four of them were held in Drapchi Prison but were transferred in May 1997 to the newly-renovated and expanded Chushul Prison in the outskirts of Lhasa.

Dawa Gyaltsen spent major part of his sentence in Chushul Prison, where incarceration means brutal mistreatment and torture of political prisoners. During his imprisonment, prison authorities particularly targeted Dawa Gyaltsen for extra supervision and surveillance.

During the 2008 uprising in Tibet, Dawa Gyaltsen was kept in solitary confinement for about six months, as were other prisoners such as Dolma Kyap and Tsering Wangchuk in Chushul.

Prior to the sentencing, Dawa Gyatsen was held in Seitru Detention Centre (Lhasa) for 14 months undergoing intense interrogation, beatings and torture. Sources say his 14-month detention was not included in his 18-year sentence. In February 2005, the now-defunct London-based Tibet Information Network reported that Dawa Gyaltsen’s 18-year sentence had been reduced by one year and three months in 2002 and again in 2004, he received nine-month sentence reduction.

In 1997, Tenzin Tsundue, a well-known Tibetan activist and writer in India, met Dawa Gyaltsen, who was then 28, in Seitru Detention Centre. Tsundue was detained in March 1997 for “illegally” entering Tibet. According to Tenzin Tsundue, Dawa Gyaltsen was mistreated by prison authorities, who often deprived him of food, and the daily 15-minute morning break outside prison cells.

In his deposition filed on 3 July 2006 in the Spanish national court[i], Tsundue wrote:

Once he showed me his wrists. There were clear scars of torture- a ring of white scar tissue ran around his wrists. He told me that when he was first arrested he was handcuffed and thrown into a dark room without food for ten days. To keep him alive, the jailors would splash water on him once a day. The handcuffs tightened around his wrists. They ate into his flesh, forming sores, and puss. After 10 days when they unlocked the shackles, the metal rings ripped off skin from his wrist. He said he was not given medical attention and it took many months for the sores to heal.

Tsundue, who was detained for about three months in Seitru, said prisoners were not allowed to speak to each other, and if caught in the act, prison guards beat them up.

Dawa Gyaltsen was born in Shentsa (Ch: Jiali) County in Nagchu (Ch: Naqu) Prefecture in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), in central Tibet.

Dawa Gyaltsen attended primary and middle school in Nagchu Prefecture, later pursuing further education in Beijing, where he specialised in banking and accountancy. After finishing his studies, he worked as a clerk-cum-accountant at a bank in Nagchu. He was married with two children.


[i] Spain hears Tibet lawsuits, upholds universal jurisdiction, http://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/spain-hears-tibet-lawsuits-upholds-universal-jurisdiction