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China police trap fugitive monk

The monk who provided vivid pictures of police brutality in Tibet has been tracked down and arrested.

Jigme Gyatso, a monk from Labrang Monastery, described the torture he underwent.
Jigme Gyatso, a monk from Labrang Monastery, described the torture he underwent.

BEIJING // Jigme Gyatso, a Tibetan monk who produced a video providing vivid personal details of the brutal Chinese crackdown in Tibetan monasteries this year, was arrested yesterday afternoon at his monastery by more than 70 members of the Chinese People's Armed Police and Public Security Bureau. A friend of Mr Gyatso notified several Tibetan intellectuals around the world immediately after the arrest, about 1pm Beijing time, including Tsering Shakya, a professor of contemporary Tibetan studies at the University of British Columbia in Canada. The video was first broadcast on the Voice of America news website and YouTube on Sept 3, and quickly made its way around the world via the internet. Two days later the police launched a nationwide search for the monk, who had already gone into hiding. Yesterday, police lured Mr Gyatso back to the monastery by saying they would not arrest him if he returned. Prof Shakya said Mr Gyatso, 42, a monk at the Labrang Monastery in the small town of Xiahe, Gansu province, had eluded police for around two months before being arrested yesterday. There has been no news of his situation since his detention. Mr Gyatso was originally taken away from the Labrang Monastery by police on March 22, 12 days after the first protests against Chinese rule in Tibet broke out in Lhasa. "He was beaten severely and held for a month," said a Tibetan writer in China who knows Mr Gyatso personally and who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said Mr Gyatso was sent to a hospital about a month later, "on the verge of death". After leaving the hospital, Mr Gyatso was allowed to return to his monastery, apparently because police found no evidence to support their belief he was one of the organisers of the protests. However, his civil liberties were withdrawn for one year, including his freedom of speech. Mr Gyatso then secretly made his way to Beijing, where the video was produced. The Tibetan writer, who was also informed of the arrest yesterday by an anonymous caller, said Mr Gyatso's video had had a "huge impact" because it was seen all over the world, and because it was the first public report of the crackdown by a well-known individual. "He used his real name, real voice and real face, to tell what had happened," the writer said. "He told of his own personal experiences, what happened to monks in his monastery, including the people there - nomads, farmers, and normal people. He told everything in great detail and accuracy." The writer said Mr Gyatso did not try to hide his identity - despite knowing the risk involved - because he felt the truth had to be exposed. In the video, Mr Gyatso tells how he was tortured by police after his arrest in March: "I was beaten continuously for two days with nothing to eat nor a drop of water to drink? The second time, I was unconscious for six days at the hospital, unable to open my eyes or speak a word? they lied to my family members by telling them that they had not beaten me; they also made me put down my thumbprint? on a document that said I was not tortured." He also details the torture of fellow monks: "Monks who spoke to some reporters were beaten with batons and had their legs broken; on some, they used electric batons on their heads and in their mouths - the electric baton affected their brains and some have become disabled? sort of insane." After the video was broadcast, Mr Gyatso went into hiding, telling friends he would remain out of touch, unless he was arrested. There had been no further word of him until yesterday. "He couldn't go back to his monastery because his room was under police surveillance," said the Tibetan writer, adding that Mr Gyatso could not return to his own home because that was also being monitored by police. The writer said Mr Gyatso had not been involved in the protests this year because he had already been detained by the police several times, including once for 40 days after returning from a Buddhist ceremony in India in 2006. "Jigme has always been suspect," said the writer, "so he didn't take part in the protests." Since the first protests, in March, the Chinese government has made a strong effort to control news coming out of Tibetan areas that contradict the official version of events. For the most part, foreign reporters have not been allowed to visit Tibetan areas since then, and those few who have been allowed in have had their movements restricted. pmooney@thenational.ae