The death in February of a Tibetan protester serving a 21-year prison term for sharing news of Tibetan protests with foreign news media has temporarily slowed the flow of information from residents of Tibet’s Driru county, where local Tibetans have staged frequent protests against Chinese rule.
Kunchok Jinpa, aged 51 and a Driru (Chinese, Biru) county resident, had vanished in custody after being detained in November 2013, and died on Feb. 6 in a hospital in Lhasa after being transferred from his prison in critical condition, Tibetan sources and rights groups said.
Jinpa had suffered from paralysis and a brain hemorrhage resulting from torture in prison, and was at least the seventh Tibetan political prisoner reported during the last year to have died, either in prison or following release, from injuries inflicted in custody.
He had gone to live and study in exile in India in 1989 and returned to Tibet in 1998 to work as a tour guide, and was widely respected in his community, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
Jinpa had also been an important source of information for foreign news outlets, including RFA, on protests in Tibet’s restive Driru county, where Chinese police have clamped down for years on communications to stop politically sensitive information from leaving the region.
On May 23, 2013, Jinpa called RFA’s live radio show “Round Table Talk” to inform listeners that at least 5,000 Tibetans were protesting mining activities planned by China on a sacred mountain, Naklha Dzambha, where similar protests had been launched two years before.
Mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth for shipment back to China.
And on Nov. 13 that same year, Jinpa again called RFA to say that three Tibetans had been arrested in Driru for putting up posters drawing attention to the conditions of Tibetans lives’ under Beijing’s rule and calling for Tibetan freedom.
Wave of detentions
The arrests followed a wave of detentions in the area of Tibetans resisting forced displays of loyalty to the Chinese state, including orders by authorities to fly the Chinese national flag from their homes.
Villagers had refused to fly the flags, throwing them instead into a river, prompting a deadly crackdown in October in which security forces fired on protesters in Driru’s Sengthang and Trinring villages, leaving four dead and at least 50 injured, sources said.
Suspected by police of contacting RFA and other foreign news outlets, Jinpa was later arrested by Chinese police and sentenced to a 21-year prison term of which he served less than half before his death.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, and the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world following the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.
Copyright © 1998-2020, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036. https://www.rfa.org
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