In March 2005, 31-year-old writer and teacher Dolma Kyab (penname Lobsang Kelsang Gyatso) was sentenced to ten and a half years in prison. Tried secretly by the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court, it is believed that he received this harsh sentence due to the severity of the charges brought against him; ‘espionage’ and ‘illegal border crossing’.
At the time of his arrest, Dolma Kyab was a history teacher at a middle school in Lhasa. The charges against him seem to be rooted in the suspicion that he endangered State security in his manuscript Sao dong de Ximalayasha (The Restless Himalayas). Indeed, writing from prison in November 2005, Dolma Kyab himself attributed his conviction to this unpublished book, in which he writes in detail about Tibetan geography, history and religion.
This book alone would not justify such a sentence under Chinese law, but charges of ‘espionage’ or ‘stealing state secrets’ are one of the most serious political offences in China and can be punishable by execution. ‘State secrets’ cover any information deemed to be secret by the Chinese State, and would often be regarded as public knowledge in many other countries. According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, this may be because another of Kyab’s manuscripts that apparently contains ‘sensitive’ information on the location and number of Chinese military camps in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
Dolma Kyab’s writings are motivated by the desire to express the opinions of Tibetan youth on various issues relating to present day Tibet, such as human rights, democracy, literature and culture. Dolma Kyab is particularly concerned about the destruction of the Tibetan environment under Chinese policy, for instance pollution of rivers and land by uranium mining.
There have been several concerns over Kyab’s health. He reportedly contracted tuberculosis during pre-trial detention, and, after receiving treatment, he was transferred to Chushul (Chinese: Qushui) Prison in the Tibet Autonomous Region in March 2006. On 19 July 2007, he was reportedly transferred to Seilong (Xining) prison, about 400km from Lhasa; a labour camp where prisoners undergo ‘Re-education Through Labour’. In early August 2007, PEN received reports that a former detainee had seen Kyab at Seilong (Xining) prison and that he appeared in a very poor state of health, receiving insufficient medical care. His sentence expires on 8 March 2015.
According to his friends, Dolma Kyab, who is from Haibei (Tibetan: Tsojang) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai (the Tibetan area of Amdo) is a highly educated intellectual with a Masters degree, who feels more comfortable writing in Chinese than Tibetan, and also knows Japanese. He studied history and geography at Qinghai Normal University and graduated in 1999, doing postgraduate studies at Beijing University until 2002. The manuscript of his book is mostly written by hand in precise Chinese characters.
In November 2003, Dolma Kyab left Tibet to travel into exile, and studied English and Hindi in Dharamsala, India. While in exile, he worked on his manuscript, which includes chapters on Tibetan history, geography, sovereignty, democracy, and religious belief. It begins with an emotional account of his love for his parents and country:
‘I grew up in the cradle of my nation. I saw my people live in a higher place in this world. But when I lay on the ground to watch the world, I cried. Those tears were a reasonable response to what was happening in the world. I grew up with the love of my parents. When my parents’ foreheads were creased with love, I cried. These were tears of emotion. Therefore I decided that I would do something for my nation and people like my parents.’
Dolma Kyab is an Honorary Member of the English and German PEN Centres.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/campaigns/chinacampaign/dolmakyab/