New information on laogai in Amdo
TIN[Saturday, April 19, 2003 10:30]
TIN has received confirmation regarding the first known political imprisonment in the large Hydroelectric Equipment Plant west of Xining in Qinghai province (traditionally known as Amdo by Tibetans). One of the prisoners, Lobsang Dargyal, died last November within months of his sentencing, in an army hospital in Xining. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear.

The city of Xining has several industrial production sites that are known to use forced labour. The Hydroelectric Equipment Plant, which is also reportedly known as 'Qinghai Prison no. 5', is said to house a great number of prisoners, mostly non-Tibetans (see

In August or September 2002, Lobsang Dargyal and Tashi Gyatso, two Tibetans from Ragya (Machen County, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Qinghai) were reportedly given long prison sentences and transferred to the Xining Hydroelectric Equipment Plant. They had been arrested a year earlier, in April 2001, on their way back to Tibet from India.

Lobsang Dargyal was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for 'splittist activities' and on charges related to spying activities. In November 2002 he became ill and was taken to a military hospital in Xining. According to sources familiar with the case, 36 year-old Lobsang Dargyal was in a coma. Although his state could have suggested brain injury, there were no clear indications of maltreatment or external injury. The date of his death is given as 17 November, but some sources mention 19 November.

Tashi Gyatso was reportedly sentenced to 13 years and also held in the Hydroelectric Equipment Plant, but further details are lacking on his case. Sources say that he had been to India and he is likely to have met Lobsang Dargyal on the way back from there.

Lobsang Dargyal, lay name Dzamtrin, was a monk form Ragya monastery. In 1992 he was arrested for the first time and sentenced to three years for distributing pamphlets with political content such as 'Free Tibet' and 'Long live the Dalai Lama' during the enthronement ceremony of Shingza Rinpoche (Shingza Pandita Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Choekyi Gyaltsen). Shingza Rinpoche is believed by Tibetans to be the reincarnation of the mother of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism. Lobsang Dargyal helped the Rinpoche to escape into exile
after having served his prison sentence in 1997. It seems the reason for the Rinpoche's escape was general fear among people that the authorities might attempt to utilise him and his status for political goals.

The "Qinghai Hydro-Electricity Installation Factory" (Qinghai Shuidian Shebei Zhizao Chang) is an immense site a few kilometers west of the western edge of Xining, in the village of Duoba, between Zhangjiawan and Pengjiazhai. It is contiguous with the main highway heading westfrom Xining, which later splits into Highways No. 109 (to Golmud/Lhasa) and No. 214 (to Yushu and Chamdo). About six large guard towers are spaced along the section of prison wall fronting the highway.

A young Tibetan who was held in this facility in the beginning of the 1990s recalls that the numbers of Tibetan prisoners were low. “I spent my sentence time in group [Chinese: tui] 4 and 7 and in both cases there were three to five Tibetan inmates”. He recalls that all of them were common prisoners, particularly nomads implicated in fights over pastureland, for which they were reportedly serving sentences of 10 to 12 years. The work in the various groups of the factory at that time included the manufacturing of electrical and/or mechanical devices, but also brick manufacturing, construction work, and the cultivation of vegetables and fruits.

A former Tibetan inmate remembers: "This prison was more like a shop, people would come and order certain goods in certain sizes and then we would produce these goods for them according to their orders”. He describes the work as hard for prisoners with low sentences and slightly lighter for prisoners with very long sentences. Prisoners with few years of their sentence left as well as other trusted prisoners were taken out for construction activities, reportedly for government departments in Xining.