A Tibetan protester serving a 21-year prison term for sharing news of Tibetan protests with foreign news media died this month in a hospital in Lhasa after being transferred from his prison in critical condition, Tibetan sources and rights groups say.
Kunchok Jinpa, aged 51 and a resident of Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county in Tibet’s Nagchu (Naqu) municipality, had vanished in custody after being detained on Nov. 8, 2013, and died on Feb. 6, three months after being admitted to hospital suffering from paralysis and a brain hemorrhage, according to local sources.
Jinpa 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’s Tibetan Service.
“Following Kunchok JInpa’s return to Driru from India, he made a huge impact on Tibetans living inside Tibet by providing guidance and advice on the need for unity and education to preserve Tibetan identity,” Yarthar—a former Driru resident now living in India—said.
“People adored and trusted him immensely.”
“Kunchok Jinpa’s death [at the hands of China] is a clear picture of the cost of disclosing true information from inside Tibet to the outside world,” Yarthar said.
After Jinpa was detained in 2013, Tibetans living in India faced an almost complete shutdown of news coming from Driru, a member of Tibet’s India-based parliament in exile named Ngawang Tharpa said, adding, “Many of us have had hardly any communication at all with our people there for six or seven years.”
“Kunchok Jinpa was a very important source for us, and he was a very brave man,” Tharpa said.
'Just the latest case'
One of hundreds detained in Driru protests in October 2013 against Chinese orders that Tibetans fly China’s national flag from their homes, Jinpa was also suspected of supplying information to outside media sources on a Tibetan protest against mining on a sacred mountain, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a Feb. 16 statement.
“Kunchok Jinpa’s death is yet another grim case of a wrongfully imprisoned Tibetan dying from mistreatment,” said HRW China director Sophie Richardson. “Chinese authorities responsible for arbitrary detention, torture or ill-treatment, and the death of people in their custody should be held accountable.”
“This is just the latest case of a Tibetan dying after being imprisoned for daring to defy the occupying Chinese government,” added John Jones, Campaigns Manager at London-based Free Tibet, in a Feb. 17 statement. Jones noted that news of the death of a young Tibetan monk detained for taking part in a peaceful protest had only recently been smuggled out of Tibet.
Tenzin Nyima, 19, was detained in August 2020 after distributing leaflets and shouting slogans calling for Tibetan independence, and died in January in Sichuan’s Dartsedo (Kangding) county of injuries sustained from beatings and torture in a Chinese prison, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
Of the estimated thousand Tibetans detained by Chinese authorities in Driru since 2013, the whereabouts of around 600 are still unknown, Pema Gyal—a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy—told RFA.
“The Chinese government over the years has imprisoned many Tibetans like Kunchok Jinpa on false allegations, and many have reportedly died due to torture in the prisons,” Gyal said.
U.S. promises support for Tibet
In a statement Wednesday, a U.S. State Department spokesman said "The United States stands with the many Tibetans oppressed and imprisoned by the [People’s Republic of China] for the peaceful exercise of their human rights.”
“We urge PRC authorities to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the department said, adding that the U.S. will work with its partners and allies to press Beijing to engage in direct dialogue with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama or his representatives to resolve differences.
“The United States supports meaningful autonomy for Tibetans,” the State Department said.
A formerly 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 a failed 1959 national 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 Lobsang Gelek for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.