The warden in charge of De Yang Prison in Sichuan Province, in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations of the People’s Republic of China and with the approval of the Ministry of Justice, has ordered the release on medical parole of the Tibetan prisoner Ngawang Choephel. Ngawang Choephel is 34 years old, and he has been serving an 18-year prison sentence for espionage and counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement in prisons in Tibet and Sichuan since September 1995.
Following discussions between the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America, Ngawang Choephel departed Beijing, accompanied by an official of the American government, on Sunday, January 20, 2002, and arrived in Detroit on Northwest Airlines flight NW88 on the same day. After receiving a medical examination and appropriate medical treatment in the United States, it is expected that Ngawang Choephel will return to India to be with his mother, Sonam Dekyi, and other members of his family.
Ngawang Choephel entered the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) from India in July 1995. He was detained on suspicion of espionage, in September 1995, by state security forces in Xigatse, TAR. In December 1996, he was tried and convicted of espionage and counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement by the Xigatse Intermediate People’s Court. His sentence was set at 18 years, to run from September 6, 1995 to September 5, 2013, with four years subsequent deprivation of political rights. Ngawang Choephel appealed the verdict. On September 24, 1997, the TAR Higher People’s Court rejected the appeal and upheld the original verdict.
According to the Measures for Carrying Out Medical Parole for Prisoners issued by China’s Ministry of Justice in 1990, “Prisoners who have contracted serious and chronic illnesses that have not been successfully treated after a long period of time . . . and who have served at least one-third of their fixed term sentence” are eligible for medical parole. Shortly after Ngawang Choephel completed six years of his sentence (that is, one third of his sentence), judicial authorities, acting on an application from the prisoner, began considering his release on medical parole. After carrying out the required procedures, the certificate of medical parole was issued by the authorities at De Yang Prison.
Relevance to US-China Relations
Ngawang Choephel’s situation has concerned many people inside and outside China. Because Ngawang Choephel attended Middlebury College on a Fulbright Scholarship, the Congressional Delegation from Vermont, USA, took a special interest in the case. On many occasions, members of Congress and officials from governments around the world appealed to the Chinese Government to release Ngawang Choephel on humanitarian grounds.
In a letter to the Vermont Congressional Delegation in October 1999, China’s Ambassador to the United States disclosed that Ngawang Choephel had contracted bronchitis, pulmonary infection and hepatitis around October 1998, and that he had been hospitalized for a period of two months. (According to an informed source in the Chinese Government, Ngawang Choephel also contracted urinary tract infections while in prison.) The October 29, 1999 letter from China’s Ambassador stated that Ngawang Choephel had been exempted from physical labor. In 2000, Ngawang Choephel was moved from Bomi Prison in the TAR to De Yang Prison near Chengdu Municipality in Sichuan. De Yang is situated at a significantly lower altitude than Bomi.
In accordance with the right of prisoners to receive family visits, and following special arrangements to facilitate the visitors’ travel, Ngawang Choephel was visited by his mother and uncle in August 2000.
Prior to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Beijing in July 2001, the US State Department presented a list of cases of concern – including that of Ngawang Choephel – to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October 2001, the United States and China exchanged opinions and information on Ngawang Choephel and other cases during the 10th session of the bilateral dialogue between the two countries on human rights held in Washington, DC. Official and unofficial contacts took place after the session in Beijing, at the United Nations in New York and in Washington in November and December 2001, and in January 2002.
The Dui Hua Foundation is pleased to have facilitated the dialogue that has resulted in the medical parole of Ngawang Choephel. We wish him a speedy recovery and swift reunion with his family. We acknowledge with thanks all those in the two governments who have made this humanitarian gesture possible.
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
January 20, 2002