According to reports, Sonam Gyalpo, a Tibetan political prisoner who spent 16 years in a Chinese jail on nebulous political allegations, has died. On August 16th, at the age of roughly 72, the veteran political prisoner died away at his home in Lhasa. Gyalpo was born in Gongkar County, Lhoka Prefecture, in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), on June 14, 1955.
On September 27, 1987, after participating in a nonviolent rally in Lhasa calling for Tibetan independence, Sonam Gyalpo was arrested for the first time. This resulted in a three-year sentence for him in Drapchi Prison. Allegations of “counter-revolutionary” actions, a word often employed by Chinese authorities to stifle political opposition, were central to each of his incarcerations. On September 20th, 1990, he was finally freed.
After returning to Nepal in July 1993 following a trip to India to see his brother and get blessings from the Dalai Lama, he was once again detained on charges of creating political offense. On the evening of July 23, 1993, police went to his house and arrested him. His worldwide excursions without adequate papers were reportedly the reason for his imprisonment. Gyalpo was held incommunicado for extended periods of time and transferred between facilities while he was in jail. He was locked up for six months in Shigatse’s Nyara Prison and then for another six months in Lhasa’s Sangyip Prison.
On August 28, 2005, officers from the Chinese State Security Bureau took Sonam Gyalpo into custody at his Lhasa home for the third time. He was accused of “endangering state security” after being detained and having his home randomly searched, at which time photos, videos, and books portraying His Holiness the Dalai Lama were taken from him.
The timing of this incident, just before the commemoration of the 40th establishment anniversary of the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region,” was particularly sensitive for the Chinese government. The Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court subsequently handed down a 12-year jail term to Gyalpo in the middle of 2006. After his conviction, Gyalpo spent around 10 months locked up in Lhasa’s Seitru Detention Centre, also known as the “TAR” Public Security Bureau Detention Centre. Gyalpo was transported to Chushul Prison on November 3, 2006, and he remained there until his release on August 27, 2017.