Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan poet and activist, takes his fight to Britain today when he files a sworn testimony detailing atrocities he says he saw and experienced while in prison in the remote Himalayan region.
Mr Tsundue’s testimony is a stark litany of beatings and torture doled out during his imprisonment without trial in 1999, and will be submitted today to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office legalisation office, where it will be officially notarised.
The testimony is for a criminal suit filed in Spain’s High Court by three Tibet support groups accusing former president Jiang Zemin and ex-parliament chief Li Peng, both of whom retired in 2003, of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Tibet.
“Many European countries speak of peace and human rights and harmony. But on business they all cosy up to China, it’s hypocritical. Through asking for justice in an international court I hope they will have second thoughts,” Mr Tsundue said. “The Tibetan people should have the right to run their own country, not the Chinese people,” he said. The case accuses the retired leaders, who were in office during the 1980s and 1990s, of authorising massacres and torture in Tibet. The court could call for the Chinese government to arrest those accused of human rights abuse – and even impound their property.
Tibet has been under the control of China since 1950 when the People’s Liberation Army marched into Tibet. Less than a decade laterthe Himalayan region’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled after a failed uprising. Tales of torture and abuse have abounded over the past four decades.
China has condemned the lawsuit, calling it absurd, and Beijing has accused Madrid of meddling in its affairs. Madrid is also investigating charges of genocide against the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Emilie Hunter, a spokesperson for the Madrid-based Friends of Tibet Committee, said she hoped that the effect of filing the testimony in Britain would be to stimulate broader government and public interest in the issue.
The lawsuit coincides with the opening of a hitech train line between Beijing and Lhasa, which the Chinese say will give Tibet an economic boost, but which Tibetan activists fear will lead to a dilution of Tibetan culture.
“This is one way to fight Beijing – they may not listen to us Tibetans but this is a way to speak to Beijing non-violently with law and show this is injustice and we want them to address this,” Mr Tsundue said.
The activist lives, along with approximately 110,000 other Tibetans including the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, close to the border with India. He was arrested in 1999 while crossing into Tibet at Ladakh and held for three months in two prisons. Here he says he experienced, and witnessed, the treatment of Tibetans who had been jailed for “counterrevolutionary” crimes.
“Over three months I was beaten, starved, became infested with lice and had a red-hot poker brandished in front of my eyes. For me, those long sessions of interrogation were so intimidating, humiliating, and disturbing that many times I found myself crying in the middle of night in my dark prison cell,” he said.
He said he fears for the life of one political prisoner, Dawa Gyaltsen, who was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to 18 years in prison for designing and distributing “free Tibet” posters. He is now being held in Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi prison.
Mr Tsundue’s views are more extreme than those of the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese view as a dangerous separatist who wants to wrest control of Tibet away from China. Beijing accuses him of continuing to spark independence movements among the 2.7 million Tibetans and refuses to allow him back inside its borders.
For his part, the Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, insists he is a moderate who preaches a “middle way”, which seeks special autonomy for Tibet within China, not independence.
Many Tibetans, include Mr Tsundue, remain fiercely loyal to the figure they regard as a god-king. “For us Tibetans the Dalai Lama is our leader and he is our Buddha,” Mr Tsundue said. “He has an immense sense of compassion and forgiveness. I don’t have the power of the Buddha to compromise on independence.
“On the political front I ask for independence for Tibet. The Tibetan people should have the right to run their own country and not China,” he said.
My name is Tenzin Tsundue. I am a Tibetan born and brought up in India. On 4 March 1997, I walked across the India-Tibet border. I was apprehended at Cha-gang by border police. For eight days I was interrogated every morning for many hours and throughout these interrogation sessions, they kept asking me who sent me, who backed me in my mission, what was it about, who I was meeting in Tibet … the interrogators, who were mostly Tibetans, would kick me, punch me in the chest and often slapped my face … Sometimes, after a hard slap I would almost go deaf, and for a long time I remained dazed. These sessions of interrogation were very intimidating, humiliating and mentally so traumatising that sometimes in the middle of the night in my cell, I found myself crying … I was never produced before any court nor given any opportunity for legal support. In the jail, the food was poor and served only twice a day, leaving us starved all the time. Independent News and Media