CHINA: RELEASE OF TIBET'S LONGEST SERVING PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE WELCOMED

Amnesty International groups in Belfast as well as France, Germany, the USA and Norway had all called for Jigme Sangpo's release. The Belfast Amnesty International group had spent two years intensively campaigning for his release, which included sending a mass of postcards to the Chinese authorities at the time of the Dalai Lama's visit to the city.

Maura McCallion, Belfast Amnesty International chairperson said:

'We are absolutely delighted with his release: it shows us that letter writing campaigns and international pressure really do work.

'But we don't forget that there are over 100 other prisoners of conscience in the same prison and we are now moving on to their cases. The campaign goes on.'

The 76-year-old former primary school teacher, who was subjected to beating and solitary confinement, was released on Sunday on medical parole, eight years before the end of a 28-year sentence in Tibet's notorious Drapchi Prison. His sentence had been extended twice after protests in prison.

Jigme Sangpo's release follows the release in January of another Tibetan prisoner of conscience, Ngawang Choephel, also on medical parole.

'Poor conditions of detention coupled with widespread torture and abuse make life extremely harsh for all those jailed in Tibet,' Amnesty International said. 'The Chinese authorities should release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally. It should take urgent steps to bring an end to torture and improve conditions throughout its detention and criminal justice system.'

Background

Jigme Sangpo had spent most of the past 40 years behind bars. He was first arrested in the 1960s and sent to a re-education camp for allegedly 'subjecting his students to corporal punishment'. He was arrested again in 1970 and sentenced to ten years in prison for his political activities.

His latest period of detention, in Drapchi Prison, began in 1983 when he was given a 15-year sentence for 'spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda' after he posted up a wall-poster calling for Tibetan independence. The sentence was extended by five years in 1988 after he shouted 'reactionary slogans', and a further eight years in 1991 after he shouted 'Free Tibet' during a visit to the prison by the Swiss ambassador to China.

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