Statement made by Mrs. Sonam Dekyi on her recent visit to Tibet to see her imprisoned son

I was filled with mixed emotions when I received permission from the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi to travel into Tibet to visit my son, Ngawang Choephel, who is serving 18 years prison sentence. My mind was reeling with the prospect of going to Tibet, meeting my son after six long years and the apprehension of seeing him in an enfeebled state.

On 1 August 2000, my brother, Tsering Wangdu, and I flew from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Upon reaching Gongkar airport, near Lhasa, we were not allowed to board off the plane. Five Chinese officials boarded the plane and one of them introduced himself as the head of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Prisons. He informed me that my son was transferred to another prison in Chengdu for better medical care upon his request and that he continues to receive proper medical treatment. Two Tibetans, a male and a female, who were introduced as officials from the Lhasa Overseas Tibetan Reception Centre, attended to us. They escorted us by air to Chengdu. At Chengdu airport, we were received by a Chinese official who claimed to be from the Chengdu Reception Centre.

The next day, on August 2nd, we were driven to the Chengdu General Hospital where Ngawang was supposed to have received medical treatment. We were introduced to a renowned Chinese doctor who is attending to my son. The doctor briefed me on Ngawang’s health and told me that he is suffering from four different ailments. He further explained that my son was already treated of his urinary tract infection and that he is continuing to attend to his liver, lung and stomach ailments.

The following day, we were taken to a huge prison complex near Chengdu Railway Station where I was to meet my son for the first time in six years. As soon as we reached the prison compounds, we were shown to a room where a Chinese official met with us. The officer laid down pre-conditions prior to meeting my son. He made it clear that I was not allowed to speak in any language other than Tibetan and that it cannot be political, illegal and derogatory to the Chinese government. I was also informed that I would get two meetings with my son, both of which should not exceed an hour each. I pleaded for more time but it was to no avail.

When I saw my son, I could not even recognize him. In front of me, separated by two counters and two layers of wire-netting, stood this frail body with mere skin and bones. There were three prison guards with him, one at the back and two beside him.Tears rolled down incessantly from my eyes and I asked him if he was indeed my son. All he could say in response was, “please don’t cry.” I immediately recognized my son’s voice. When I inquired after his health, he held his chest and told me that he had constant pain in the chest. With his forehead down on the counter, he broke down in front of me. We all cried for a long time until we were told that the visit would be terminated if we did not stop crying. I was desperate to have physical contact with him and so I requested if I could touch his forehead and hold his hands. I could hear my son requesting for the same. But all our pleadings fell on deaf ears.

My son told me that he had written numerous appeals for both his medical treatment and to see me but was unable to submit them. He was told he has no illness and that he was just pretending. Frustrated with the indifference, he went on a hunger strike.

On our second visit to the prison on August 7th, a day before we were to leave for Nepal, once again we were shown to the office before meeting with Ngawang. I took this opportunity to plead with the officer on my son’s behalf. I told him that there is nothing left of my son except for his skin and bones and that he is suffering from multiple ailments. I urged him to allow me to stay where my son is so that I can attend to his needs. I further pleaded that my son be kept in hospital until his proper recovery and then send back to Tibet. I requested him to continue with the medical treatment and not to torture him mentally with interrogation. His response was that my son has been very stubborn and difficult and that he refuses to confess to his crime. I also gave my appeals to him in written.

Since this was my last opportunity to be with my son, I could not help crying. Being very anxious about his health and well being, I asked him to show me his arms and hands and move backwards so that I can examine his legs and other parts of his body. I inquired if any torture was being inflicted upon him. He responded negatively and said that Nyari prison incident was a past event and did not say anything further. He asked me to convey his sincere gratitude to all those who supported him in this time of need.

Initially when I received permission to see my son, I was looking forward to being with him and spending all six days taking care of him. But I was only able to see my son twice and that too from a distance. I was not even allowed to make physical contact with him.

I am 66 years old and my only child is serving 18 years prison sentence since 1995. My son is suffering from a serious physical and mental trauma in prison. His health is deteriorating day by day and if he does not receive timely and adequate medical treatment, he may not survive. I make an urgent appeal to the international community and in particular to the Chinese government to hand over my only son to me for medical treatment.

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