By Tenzin Dharpo
Palden Gyatso at his reisdence, Phayul Photo: Kunsang Gashon, Nov. 15, 2018
DHARAMSHALA, Nov. 30: Former political prisoner and well known spokesperson for torture practices by China in occupied Tibet, Palden Gyatso, died this morning at Delek Hospital here at 7:10 AM local time.
A senior monk from the Kirti Jepa monastery where he stayed for the last seven years said he passed away peacefully with the name of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his lips. He further said that during his audience with the Dalai Lama months ago, he was lauded and appreciated as “someone who diligently served the people” for all these years.
Gyatso who spent 33 years in Chinese prison and concentration camps in occupied Tibet earlier said that he was suffering from weakness and liver-related complications since the last few months. He was suffering from liver cancer, Phayul has learned.
On November 15, the bed ridden monk told Phayul that he had had his share of hospitals and treatments, adding, “I told the doctor that I am not willing to undergo another surgery even if that means death”.
“I am happy and blessed to have lived this long. I was blessed in prison as well when I almost starved to death but survived unlike many of my friends who died in front of me,” he further said.
Palden Gyatso displays torture tools, many of which have been used on him during his 33 years incarceration in Chinese jails in occupied Tibet. Photo- David Hoffman
The Tibetan monk was arrested in 1959 during the height of the Chinese invasion for protesting and leading a group of monks into peaceful revolt. He fled Tibet in 1992 after his release. In exile, he became the face of China’s cultural genocide in Tibet and the suppression of the Tibetan people. He toured around the world exhibiting Chinese torture tools, all of which were used on him during the decades of torture, interrogation and “mental reform” sessions.
His personal stories and first hand witness accounts of inhuman treatment by China were heard at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in 1995 and at the inaugural Oslo Freedom Forum in 2009. In 1998, he won the John Humphrey Freedom Award from the Canadian human rights group Rights & Democracy.
As news of his death spread, many offered their condolences and gratitude for the prominent figure in Tibetan movement. Fellow political prisoner and monk Bhakdro wrote in his Facebook, “I was deeply saddened and shocked to know the demise of formal political prisoner Ven Palden Gyatso. I was so fortunate to spent three years as his cell mate at Drapchi prison. Recently before he took his final breath, I have had an opportunity to a farewell audience with him, we conversed for more than an hour long, he described details about his struggles in Chinese prison and life long sacrifices.”
Activist group Tibetan Youth Congress said he was “a true Tibetan hero” and “a true Tibetan warrior” while Students for a Free Tibet with whom he worked on many campaigns over the years said his story, “bears witness to the resilience of the human spirit, and to the strength of Tibet’s proud civilization, faced with cultural genocide”.
A Tibetan netizen Tenzin Kunkey wrote, “Despite all that he went through, he was a humble and peace loving human. A great loss for Tibet. We should never forget.”