By Phuntsok Yangchen
Younten Gyatso behind bars at an undisclosed location. (Photo/TCHRD)
DHARAMSHALA, August 21: A senior Tibetan monk has been sentenced to seven years in prison by a Chinese court in eastern Tibet on alleged crimes of sharing sensitive information on the ongoing self-immolation protests inside Tibet.
Lho Younten Gyatso, 37, a monk of Khashi Geyphel Samtenling Monastery, situated near Ngaba town in eastern Tibet, was sentenced to seven years by the Ngaba Intermediate People’s Court on June 18 for his involvement in sharing pictures and information on nun Tenzin Wangmo, who self-immolated on October 17, 2011.
Tenzin Wangmo set herself on fire
at a crossroad near her monastery, the Mamae Dechen Choekhorling Nunnery, in Ngaba region calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile and religious freedom in Tibet. She succumbed to her injuries at the site of her protest.
According to the Dharamshala based rights group Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Gyatso was also charged with “sharing information since 2008 about political events in Tibet by attempting to make telephone calls to human rights mechanisms of the UN.”
Gyatso held various official positions in the Monastery before his arrest on October 18, 2011, following which he was held incommunicado for around six months by Chinese authorities.
TCHRD in a release today said that Gyatso was severely beaten and tortured during his detention and even contemplated suicide on many occasions.
“At a detention centre in Bhugang town in Chengdu, Gyatso was beaten and tortured by officers of the local State Secrets Bureau,” the release said. “The beatings and torture he suffered in detention were so severe that he contemplated taking his own life a number of times to escape from the hellish experience.”
Gyatso had served as the disciplinarian, chant master and director of the Monastery Management Committee of the Khashi Geyphel Samtenling Monastery.
Executive director of TCHRD, Tsering Tsomo called the sentencing “outrageous” and rebuked China for continuing to detain Tibetan human rights defenders whose only 'crime' is to share information about events in Tibet.
“Even if the charges against Yonten Gyatso were true, it doesn't make him a criminal; he let the outside world know about human rights violations in Tibet putting his life at risk,” Tsomo remarked.
“Instead of arresting and handing unjust sentences to Tibetan human rights defenders, China must open Tibet to outside observers and independent media.”
Yonten Gyatso was a leading educator and community leader in the Ngaba region, working extensively in the preservation and promotion of Tibetan language and culture.
In 1992, with the help of local Tibetan businessmen, Gyatso founded the Remon primary school in Khashishul village to teach Tibetan language. As head of the Khashi Educational Society, he carried out programmes all over Ngaba region to teach local people Tibetan religion, language, culture and traditions.
Gyatso’s family consists of his parents Choesum and Ganga and his two younger sisters.