Tibetan monk imprisoned after writing books about Tibet

Gartse Jigme

Gartse Jigme, when he was taken into detention.

  • A Tibetan monk, Jigme Gyatso, more well known as Gartse Jigme based on the name of his monastery in Amdo, has been sentenced to five years in prison after writing two books on the situation in Tibet and the suffering of Tibetan people, according to information from Tibetans in exile. Gartse Jigme’s third book, which was seized by police from the publishers’ before printing, includes a discussion on the self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy, sources say.
  • Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and artists have been particularly targeted since the protests and crackdown in2008 and many have been ‘disappeared’, tortured, and imprisoned as the state seeks to control representations of Tibet.
  • The sentencing of Gartse Jigme follows the screening of a new Chinese state media documentary seeking to blame exile Tibetans for the at least 116 self-immolations in Tibet since 2009 (ICT, Self-immolations by Tibetans). The new propaganda video is part of a more aggressive and formalized drive against the self-immolations that has involved the imposition of long prison sentences to Tibetans accused of ‘inciting’ these actions.

Gartse Jigme Gyatso was detained by police in his room at Gartse monastery in Tsekhog (Chinese: Zeke Xian) county in Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) TibetanAutonomousPrefecture), Qinghai on January 3 (2013) and taken to Xining. Gartse Jigme, who began his writing career in 1999 after study for a monastic degree, was sentenced to five years in prison on May 14. The exact charges against him are not known.

Gartse Jigme had been under constant surveillance and detained a number of occasions since the publication of his second book in 2008, called ‘Courage of the Tibetan King’ (‘Tsanpoe Nyingtop’ བཙན་པོའི་སྙིང་སྟོབས), a collection of essays in the Tibetan language about the political situation in Tibet since the March, 1959 Uprising and the protests that swept across Tibet in 2008. In one essay, translated into English by ICT, he wrote: “When I think about these things, it seems to me that the political protests in many places in central Tibet, Kham and Amdo this year [2008] were not organized by the Dalai Lama but were the inevitable expression of the pain stored up for so long in the minds of Tibetans young and old.”

Despite the danger, Gartse Jigme began work on a third book, also addressing serious questions about the situation inside Tibet. This time, the authorities seized the books while they were at the publishers, and attempted to prevent any distribution. Even so, some copies of the book have been circulating underground. Both texts are circulating in exile in the Tibetan language.

Gartse Jigme assesses present injustices and the outbreak of protests across Tibet since March 2008 in the light of the brutal history of the occupation, making connections between young protestors today and religious and secular leaders over the past 50 years. He writes: “As a Tibetan, I will never give up the struggle for the rights of my people. As a religious person, I will never criticize the leader of my religion. As a writer, I am committed to the power of truth and actuality. This is the pledge I make to my fellow Tibetans with my own life.”

Gartse Jigme is known as an influential member of the monastic community and on June 18, 2012, spoke at an official conference in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) attended by editors from private magazines and newsletters. According to Tibetan sources in exile, during the conference, Gartse Jigme spoke of his concerns for the decrease in numbers of monasteries in the region, the moral decline among some people, and the need for government officials to “fully investigate and understand” the importance of Tibetan monastic life. He also said that government officials should not threaten people’s daily lives in the region in an arbitrary exercise of power, and that there should be an end to the conspiratorial accusations leveled by the authorities against Tibetan religion and practitioners, that have a detrimental impact on Tibetan religious culture.

Tibetan analyst Karthup Tsering, who lives in exile in Europe, said: “Gartse Jigme’s writing is important because he expresses the pain of his generation as well as the older generation, and gives subtle but powerful insights into the life of Tibetan scholars and writers, who seek to express the experience of the people.”

The second edition of ‘The Courage of the Tibetan King’ is dedicated to: “All those brave Tibetan men and women’s sacrifice for the freedom of people and religion with pure sincerity and dedication.” In the book, a copy of which was obtained by ICT, Gartse Jigme writes about the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, and about issues of particular concern to Tibetans today such as education, language and ethnic policy.

The first chapter of this second collection gives details on the writer’s view on self-immolations and Chinese policy. Gartse Jigme writes that the self-immolations are strongly connected to the tragedies of the past half-century in Tibet as well as current repression and control over people’s daily lives. He also said that the self-immolations are connected to the lack of any acknowledgement or apology by the Chinese authorities following the devastation and killings during the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, and also to the campaign against the Dalai Lama. Gartse Jigme documented names and details of the self-immolators, and the list reached 92 names before he was detained. He wrote in the chapter that the Beijing government has the power to ensure freedom for Tibetans and for the Dalai Lama to be allowed to return home, but instead they turn to oppression.

Gartse Jigme writes that Chinese propaganda on the Dalai Lama is deeply hurtful to Tibetans, and he spoke about the solidarity among Tibetans following the self-immolations, evident in the gatherings of thousands of people in different areas to pay their respects, and the words of poets and singers. He tackled the Chinese government’s propaganda on the Dalai Lama, saying that it is not true that His Holiness encouraged people to self-immolate. The Dalai Lama, Gartse Jigme writes in the chapter, is guiding people all over the world to live peacefully, not only Tibetans, and has never encouraged self-immolation. He concludes the chapter with the hope that the Beijing leadership will attempt to understand the real reasons for the self-immolations, and not to defame the Dalai Lama.

The book also includes an essay on Tibetan writers and singers in contemporary Tibet. Gartse Jigme charts the way that the Chinese authorities compelled Tibetan artists to sing the praise of the Communist Party from the 1950s until the 1980s, when Tibetan singers began to express their true feelings and sing about their appreciation for Tibetan culture, landscape and people. Since 2008, this has become even more evident, with song lyrics directly addressing policies by the Chinese authorities in Tibet. Gartse Jigme writes that this is a real sign of hope and the strong spirit of the Tibetan people, and indicative of the connection between the young generation and the pain and suffering of the older generation.

In his writing about the singers and artists who are in prison for expressing themselves, Gartse Jigme also makes it clear that he is aware of the consequences of his own actions.

Since the protests began in 2008, the Chinese government has sought to cover up the disappearances and killings that have taken place across Tibet combined with a propaganda offensive against the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. But despite, and because of, the crackdown, dissent continues to be expressed in Tibet – particularly through the written word. While Tibetan singers and poets often used metaphorical language to express, for instance, their devotion to the Dalai Lama, since March 2008 the language has often been unambiguous and precise in its critique of the state.

Gartse Jigme is among those writers targeted for daring to challenge China’s official version of events. This new generation of intellectuals represents a more complex challenge to the Beijing leadership than before.

In one essay in his 2008 book, Gartse Jigme tells the story of the ordeal endured by his family in the Amdo region of Tibet following the Chinese invasion.

Maoist `reforms’, meaning economic expropriation and the liquidation of traditional elites, were resisted by local people as best they could, resulting in a devastating military assault on the civilian population by the People’s Liberation Army.

In the collection, Gartse Jigme writes: “In my view, instead of talking about `peaceful liberation’, it would be better to look for
a peaceful strategy. Instead of propagandizing the `harmonious society’ in the media, it would be better to find the causes and conditions for harmony. Otherwise, is harmony going to come from condemnation and intimidation backed by the gun? Will it come from starving and beating people? From making them drink their own urine? For these reasons, those who protested this year cannot be called `bandits’ but can be praised as heroes and heroines standing up for their rights. Because among 80 percent of Tibetans, there is not one who does not complain about the government in private, but these heroes and heroines managed to express this openly.”

For a translation of some of the text, see ICT’s collection of writings from Tibet, ‘Like Gold that Fears no Fire.’

Gartse Jigme’s articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers in the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo such as Dangchar (‘Rain’, སྦྲང་ཆར།). Since 2001, he worked as an editor of a Tibetan magazine called ‘Flower of a new and peaceful period’ “Flower of Accomplished Offering” (Dzogden Choepay Metok’,རྫོགས་ལྡན་མཆོད་པའི་མེ་ཏོག།) In 2005 he published a book called “‘Diary of a Journey in Thought’ (‘Samshig Nyul Pe Sintho’ བསམ་གཞིགས་ཉུལ་པའི་ཟིན་ཐོ). According to a Tibetan in exile who is in contact with friends of Gartse Jigme, the book “received much interest and respect from readers in Tibet, and it was the first encounter of Tibetan readers with Gartse Jigme, his personality and his insights.” In 2008, in addition to ‘Courage of the Tibetan King’, he wrote ‘The Life of Monks’ (Tsunpe Tsowa, བཙུན་པའི་འཚོ་བ) and ‘Compilation of Analytical writings’ (Chaytsom Chokdrig, དཔྱད་རྩོམ་ཕྱོགས་བསྒྲིགས) and a collection of stories called Drungtsom Chokdrig (སྒྲུང་རྩོམ་ཕྱོགས་བསྒྲིགས).

Gartse Jigme attended all of the philosophical classes for the ‘Geshe’ degree at his small monastery. It is believed that he had not yet been able to attend a larger monastery to engage in further studies in debate.

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