Tanak Jigme Sangpo, an elderly Tibetan prisoner convicted in 1983 of counterrevolution, has arrived in the United States for medical diagnosis and treatment. He arrived in Chicago on United Airlines Flight 850 this afternoon, accompanied by an officer of the US Embassy in China. During the initial period of his medical treatment, Jigme Sangpo will be staying with a member of his family who resides in the United States.
Jigme Sangpo was permitted to leave China after several months of discussions involving the Executive Director of The Dui Hua Foundation, John Kamm, and officials of the Chinese and American governments. These discussions led to Jigme Sangpo’s release from Drapchi Prison on medical parole on March 31, 2002, and culminated in Kamm’s visit to Lhasa on June 16-18, 2002. While in Lhasa, Kamm met Jigme Sangpo with the permission and under the supervision of the Chinese government. Kamm was accompanied to Lhasa by an official of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was met by officials of the TAR Party Committee’s Legal and Political Commission, Prison Administration Bureau, Public Security Bureau and Foreign Affairs Bureau.
On June 17, 2002, at approximately 3:30 PM, Kamm met with Tanak Jigme Sangpo at his family residence in the Sho neighborhood of Trengchuanchu District of Lhasa. Under China’s medical parole regime, Tanak Jigme Sangpo was, at the time of the meeting, considered to be a prisoner under house arrest, serving his sentence in the custody of his family. Kamm was advised by an official of the TAR Public Security Bureau (PSB) that, in accordance with the medical parole regulations, Jigme Sangpo’s status would be reviewed at the end of September, six months after the initial granting of medical parole. Aside from visits to the hospital under PSB escort, Jigme Sangpo had not been permitted to leave the family residence, his application to visit the Jokhang Temple having been turned down by the bureau. Security measures during Kamm’s visit to the neighborhood and the family residence were much in evidence, but there were no uniformed police or guards in the room during Kamm’s meeting with Jigme Sangpo.
During the 25-minute conversation, which was attended by members of Jigme Sangpo’s family and officials of the Chinese government and conducted through a translator, Jigme Sangpo described his present medical situation, and told John Kamm that he would like to seek medical treatment in the United States. Kamm offered his assistance, and told Jigme Sangpo that the US government would be advised of his desire to go to America, where Jigme Sangpo has family.
Jigme Sangpo suffers from high blood pressure and heart disease. He has recently noticed the onset of trembling in his hands and feet. Jigme Sangpo appeared tired, and walked slowly with the aid of a cane. He wore thick glasses, and gave his age as 74.
Tanak Jigme Sangpo carries himself with dignity, and is mentally sharp and articulate. He thanked the people and governments of the United States and other countries who have shown so much concern for him over a period of many years. Noting that he still had nine years to serve (his sentence expires on September 3, 2011), Jigme Sangpo asked Kamm to appeal to the Chinese government to let him go abroad to treat what appears to be a worsening of his medical condition.
Kamm was advised that his meeting with Jigme Sangpo marked the first time that the Chinese government has arranged for a foreigner to meet with a prisoner serving his sentence on medical parole. (Available information suggests that Jigme Sangpo was China’s longest serving inmate imprisoned for counterrevolution.) Aside from meeting Jigme Sangpo, Kamm had substantial discussions with officials of the Chinese government on several other Tibetan prisoners, including Ngawang Choekyi and Ngawang Choezom, two nuns released in recent weeks. Information on Tibetan prisoners is still being developed, and will be summarized in a future statement.
The Dui Hua Foundation thanks China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice Prison Administration Bureau for granting permission for the meeting with Tanak Jigme Sangpo, and for their expression of humanitarianism in allowing this elderly prisoner to depart for medical treatment the United States. The US State Department, especially Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lorne Craner, his colleagues on the China Desk and the American Ambassador to China Clark Randt, worked hard to secure Jigme Sangpo’s release and earliest possible arrival in the United States. We would also like to acknowledge the tireless efforts on Jigme Sangpo’s behalf of Congressmen Tom Lantos and Frank Wolf, Co-Chairs of the House of Representatives Human Rights Caucus, Senator Max Baucus and Congressman Doug Bereuter, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming, and Congressmen Tom Allen of Maine and Michael Capuano of Massachusetts. The Swiss government’s deep concern for Jigme Sangpo, expressed over many years, has been especially commendable.
Tanak Jigme Sangpo’s release from prison, and the fulfillment of his wish to come to the United States, would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment to his cause of human rights activists around the world. As Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
July 13, 2002