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KATE SAUNDERS
THE HIMALAYAS

Kate Saunders is the Communications Director of International Campaign for Tibet.

Courage of a Tibetan monk and his Chinese lawyer

Jigme Guri (Labrang Jigme) is a senior monk who recorded a video statement about his arrest and torture. He also expressed his anguish over the Chinese policy against the Dalai Lama.

here is still no news of the Tibetan scholar monk Jigme Guri, who was detained on 20 August in Tsoe, a Tibetan area of Gansu province, by the Chinese police. Jigme Guri, also known as Labrang Jigme (from the name of his monastery, Labrang), is the first Tibetan inside Tibet to have made a video available on Youtube without withholding his identity, giving a detailed account of his own torture in custody, and expressing his anguish about the Chinese policy against the Dalai Lama.

In the meantime, a Chinese civil rights lawyer who sought to defend Jigme Guri and other Tibetans has spoken publicly about his own torture and interrogation, almost a year after his monk client's.

Jiang Tianyong is one of China's lawyers and legal experts facing an increasingly deadly struggle in seeking to protect and defend civil rights through litigation and legal activism. Now, like several of his clients, Jiang Tianyong has faced detention and interrogation himself, as one of dozens of Chinese lawyers, bloggers and activists who "disappeared" as part of a crackdown on dissent in China from February onwards.

Few have spoken publicly about their ordeal, but last week Jiang Tianyong gave a detailed account of his two-month imprisonment. He described how at one point after being kicked and punched, he appealed to his interrogator, saying: "I am a human being, you are a human being. Why are you doing something so inhumane?" Enraged, the man knocked Jiang to the floor and screamed: "You are not a human being!" (This appeared in South China Morning Post, on 14 September).

Together with another Chinese lawyer, Jiang Tianyong had sought to represent Labrang Jigme after the monk was seized from his monastery by armed police in November 2008. Labrang Jigme was released without charges after six months. Now he has been detained for a fourth time. No one knows the reason, or his whereabouts, although some of his friends speculate that it may be a late settling of accounts for his video testimony.

Jigme Guri made the 22-minute video in 2008, after being held for just over a month in detention, nearly ending in his death. You can see an English-subtitled version at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ac-V82xAaUg

The Chinese authorities had suspected him of being a ring-leader of demonstrations that took place at Labrang on 14 and 15 March of that year, even though he had not taken part.

Jigme Guri is passionate about ensuring the truth is told. In his clear, under-stated testimony direct to camera, he tells the story of how his detention began; he had been sitting at the taxi stand in the town nearby his monastery, waiting for his shoes to be repaired, before a white van pulled up and soldiers dragged him inside, throwing a black blanket over his head.

In the video, Labrang Jigme's hands inadvertently touch his heart and his eyes reveal that he has yet to fully comprehend the cruelty he endured as he talks about the actions of the police. They point a gun at him and tell him that he can just be killed, there and then, and his corpse thrown into the trash. "It made me very sad, as if my heart was shattered into two pieces."

The testimonies of Labrang Jigme and Jiang Tianyong could not be more chilling indictments of the current crackdown in China and Tibet. But the experiences of these two individuals, a Tibetan monk and a Chinese lawyer, also indicate that a new generation of educated Tibetans and Chinese are building new alliances and developing new strategies in their attempts to counter stifling political repression and tackle injustice.

Although less well-known to the outside world than high-profile Chinese dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo and Hu Jia, Tibetan writers, scholars and bloggers detained over the past few years are generally well-known among Tibetans, and their concerns about state control and the undermining of civil society mirror those of their Chinese counterparts.

Often this new generation of Tibetans is fluent in Chinese as well as Tibetan, and familiar with the tools of social networking and digital technology. In one collection of writings, Eastern Snow Mountain — banned as soon as it was published in Tibet in 2008 — essayists from Amdo in eastern Tibet demonstrate extensive knowledge of Chinese and Tibetan law and policy, and discuss the sufferings of ordinary Chinese people as well as their own struggles against the state.

At a time of wrenching social change, this is a development of immeasurable significance to Tibet's future — and also to China's. Individuals like Labrang Jigme and Jiang Tianyong are paying a terrible price. At the same time, they represent a more profound and complex challenge to the Chinese Communist Party than it has faced before.

 
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