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China frees Tibetan political prisoner after 17 years in captivity

Beijing, Apr 3 (): China has released a 52-year-old Tibetan political prisoner Jigme Gyatso after 17 years in Chusul jail near Tibet’s capital Lhasa, reported the US-based Radio Free Asia (RFA).

The popular Tibetan activist Jigme Gyatso was initially jailed for seeking independence for Tibet and calling for the long life of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He had been serving a sentence since 1996 on charges of separatism and endangering national security.

Gyatso was arrested during a crackdown on dissent in 1996. He was initially sentenced to 15 years on charges of “inciting splittism” and the now-abolished crime of “counter-revolution”. He was held at Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi prison.

Few years back, reports said that the jail term of Gyatso was extended from 15 to 18 years after he shouted slogans in support of the Dalai Lama in jail.

Sources revealed that after he was released from prison, Jigme Gyatso was ordered to leave for his hometown and he reached his hometown on April 1 with a police escort. The former monk is now at his home in Sangchu County, Gansu province’s Kanlho, Tibet. He is reported to be in poor health.

Tashi Phuntsok, spokesman for the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India said Jigme Gyatso had been released about one year early, probably because of poor health due to harsh treatment in prison.

RFA quoted his friends saying that Gyatso walked with a limp and was complaining of heart, vision and other problems related to poor nutrition and lack of medical care.

China has used vast force to crush the successive waves of anti-government activism among Tibetans, the latest in 2008 when bloody rioting in Lhasa sparked a wave of protests across Tibet. The fate of many of those imprisoned remains unknown, while numerous Tibetans arrested earlier on state security charges continue to serve long sentences.

While China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries, Tibetans say it was an independent state.