Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The story of an ex political prisoner

On my way back from breakfast yesterday, a Monk handed me a flier with an invitation to come and listen to a Tibetan ex-political prisoner talk about his experiences. Having both just read Nelson Mandela's autobiography which describes his 40 odd years as a political prisoner in South Africa, Brent and I jumped at the chance to listen to this man.

For those of you who don't know, Tibet was invaded by China in 1949 in an effort to wipe out Tibetan identity, tradition and culture and take control of this 'snow land' country. China still occupies Tibet today and Tibetans are still subject to repression, intimidation and torture. It is a modern genocide and more than 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed in the process.

We arrive in the tiny hall that evening and sit among several dozen other Westerners eager to hear this Tibetan mans experience. Unfortunately, his name was too difficult for me to recall (or record) so for the purpose of this blog I will call him 'Jim'. Here is Jim's story:

In 1994, 19 year old Jim and four of his friends started a harmless protest against the Chinese government in his homeland of Tibet. The protest was started because the five friends who were all Buddhist monks were forced out of their monastery due to a Chinese introduced law that said each monastery could only house 40 monks and this meant that Jim and his friends were forcibly kicked out of theirs. Within five minutes of their protest the men were stopped by Chinese police and taken in to interrogation, a process of torture that lasted four months without a sentence or explanation. During this time Jim was continuously asked who forced him to start a protest with the assumption that he was too young to start one on his own. He was also questioned as to who drew the Tibetan flags he was carrying during the protest and when he answered that he himself drew them and he himself started the protests he was subjected to torture. One such method of torture included having Jim place his hands, palms upwards, underneath a stool on which Chinese officials would take turns sitting on.

Finally after four months, Jim was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for "disturbing national stability "(how ironic!). Torture and beatings in the prison intensified and food was scarce, 2 momos for breakfast and a small portion of rice with vegetable broth for dinner. At this time, Chinese doctors would regularly visit Jim and take blood from him. When Jim asked one day what the blood was for he was told it was payment for his food. Later these doctors would take vital spinal fluid instead.

Other forms of torture included having his skin pinched and twisted with pliers, standing or kneeling on ice for hours at a time, beatings to the head with mental tools and zappings with cow prodders. Perhaps for Jim the most torturous form of punishment was working in the Chinese "green houses" which required him to use pesticides to kill bugs and insects - something completely against the Buddhist philosophy and way of life. Towards the end of his imprisonment Jim was advised that he would be given the privilege of daily exercise. This turned out to be another form of brutality as he was forced to run from dawn to dusk in the stinking heat with no protection from the elements.

Jim's features soften and sadness washes over his face as he tells the audience that 12 of his fellow political prisoners died from the beatings or lack of medication needed as a result of the torture. He recalls seeing his closest friend being carried by the Chinese officials, his body limp and face covered in blood and being thrown into his cell like a piece of luggage. Jim's friend was dead and he admits that still to this day he has vivid nightmares and flashbacks of his dear friend's face.

Finally in 2000, Jim was released from prison but despite supposedly being granted the same rights as other civilians, Jim and his friends and family were continually haunted by the Chinese officials. Jim was unable to hold a job because the police would threaten his employers with business closure. He was unable to sustain normal relationships with friends and family because they too were threatened by the Chinese government. Realising his inability to live in his own country, Jim finally made the heartbreaking decision in 2005 to take exile in India. A 25 day hike through rough mountainous terrain saw Jim reach Nepal before eventually reaching India, alone and with almost nothing to claim as his own.

Jim finishes his story by pointing out that his is in no way special or the exception to the norm in Tibet and that it is just one of many thousands. His story is a chilling reminder that China still occupies Tibet and continues the same brutal atrocities today. Remarkably, during question and answer time, Jim admits that although he feels "strangely" towards Chinese officials if he sees them today, he has no hard feelings towards the Chinese people in general. When asked if he thought Tibet needed to change its strategy of non-violence towards Chine, he (predictably) answered that he held strong his belief in the Buddhist method of non-violence and following the middle-way.

At the end of the evening Jim simply asked that we share his story with our countries and our people. So many people don't know or have forgotten that Tibet is still under the harsh and unforgiving grip of the Chinese Government and by sharing his story and reminding the West of Tibet's struggle we are putting pressure on China to one day free Tibet. This is why I am sharing this one man's story. Please don't forget about the Tibetan struggle for freedom and spread the word.

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