Yulo Dawa Tsering Passes Away
(Tibet Information Network | February 22, 2002)

Yulo Dawa Tsering

Geshe Yulo Dawa Tsering, the respected senior lama and former political prisoner who was an inspiration and support to Tibetans both in prison and after his release, has died at home in Lhasa. Yulo Dawa Tsering, who was in his seventies, served 20 years in prison after his participation in the March 1959 Uprising in Lhasa. He was detained again in December 1987 and spent more than seven years in prison for expressing views on the situation in Tibet in a video filmed by an Italian tourist. He was finally released several weeks before the arrival of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance in 1994 although he remained under close and restrictive surveillance until his death on 17 January. A close friend who heard from Yulo Dawa Tsering just before his death said that he had been ill for more than a year. A Tibetan former political prisoner who was in prison with Yulo Dawa Tsering told TIN: "His death is a great loss. He was friendly with everyone and very patient. He was a man of principle."

Yulo Dawa Tsering's case came to international attention when he was arrested together with his friend Thubten Tsering, a monk from Sera monastery, after participating in a video interview in July 1987 with an Italian tourist, Dr Stefano Dallari, and an exile Tibetan monk visiting Lhasa. The videotape included comments by Yulo Dawa Tsering on human rights abuses and poverty in Tibet. Yulo Dawa Tsering, who was a tulku (reincarnate lama) and had attained the high monastic degree of Geshe in 1950, and Thubten Tsering were both held in the Tibet Autonomous Region Public Security Bureau detention centre (under the "Sitru" or "Number Four Unit") for a year before being sentenced in January 1989. They were reportedly held for most of this period in solitary confinement with frequent interrogations. Yulo Dawa Tsering was sentenced to ten years and Thubten Tsering to six years for the offence of "spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda with foreign reactionary elements". A March 1988 Radio Lhasa broadcast accused the monks of having "viciously vilified the policies adopted by the Chinese Communist Party and the People's government."

Yulo Dawa Tsering was released "conditionally" in November 1994 in the run-up to the deadline at the end of December 1994 for China's admission to the World Trade Organisation. It was also just prior to the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, Abdelfattah Amor, to Lhasa later that November. Yulo Dawa Tsering reportedly told the Special Rapporteur during his visit that there was a ban on religious activity in prison and also a ban on readmission to monasteries and nunneries for monks and nuns who had completed prison sentences for political offences. Both practices were later mentioned in the UN report following the visit.

A delegation to Tibet of three members of the European Parliament was allowed to meet Yulo Dawa Tsering during their visit to Lhasa in November 1996. The Irish MEP Bernie Malone said afterwards: "They [Chinese officials] said he was on parole but during the meeting it appeared to us that this was not parole in our sense of the word. He was not the master of his own movements." A request to meet him by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson during her visit to Tibet in September 1998 was denied by the Chinese authorities. In the same year, the Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom sent a communication to the Chinese authorities expressing concern about allegations that Yulo Dawa Tsering was being kept under police surveillance and that he was not allowed to live in his monastery, Ganden, nor to resume teaching classes at Lhasa University, where he had previously taught philosophy.

An Inspiration and Support For Pthers

Yulo Dawa Tsering was well-known among Tibetans in Lhasa for his strength of mind and for the practical and emotional support he provided to those in prison and to political prisoners after their release. According to several former political prisoners in exile, he would give money that was given to him for his medical care to other Tibetans in need. One former prisoner said that at one point during his imprisonment Yulo Dawa Tsering left packages of food in the bathroom of the cell block for other inmates who at that time were not allowed to receive butter, meat or tsampa. A friend of his who knows several of his former cell-mates told TIN: "He was a great inspiration for political prisoners, including those who were released and escaped into exile. Many consulted him about different things and it seems he was always there as a support for them. If any of them inside or outside prison had a problem or illness they would speak to him about it."

Another ex-political prisoner, a former Ganden monk released in 1993 who now lives in exile, told TIN that prison officials would always point to Yulo Dawa Tsering as an example of a prisoner who had not "reformed", referring to his 20 years in Drapchi prison from 1959 to 1979, when he carried out labour on a construction site. The former prisoner told TIN: "During re-education meetings [officials] would always say to us, 'Look at him, he hasn't changed his ideas since 1959, and for that reason he is still here in prison. Yulo Dawa Tsering will take those ideas of freedom with him to his coffin.'" A former political prisoner now living in exile in India told TIN: "Yulo Dawa Tsering's mind and composure were very strong, perhaps from many years in prison. When other prisoners were being tortured, most prisoners would be very upset but he would remain calm."

The former prisoner also said: "Even when there were other elderly political prisoners who did a lot of religious practice in the cell-block, Yulo Dawa Tsering was often with the younger political prisoners, singing and joking with them. He was really interested in his fellow political prisoners; when a new prisoner arrived he would always talk to them, find out where they were from, why they had been arrested, what was the situation of their family and so on. He would thank them, saying they had done very good work for freedom and the future of Tibet."

A Period of Emergency and Darkness

Yulo Dawa Tsering apparently became disillusioned about the prospects for Tibet's future following his release from prison. He was particularly concerned about the numbers of Chinese workers, the high unemployment of Tibetans and the predominance of Chinese in senior official positions. Like many Tibetan intellectuals, he was also concerned about the decline in the use of the Tibetan language and deteriorating standards of education. He expressed some of these concerns in a letter he wrote two years ago, which was obtained by TIN. He wrote: "These days the so-called Western Development project is underway. This project aims to transfer large numbers of Chinese people for permanent settlement into areas inhabited by minority nationalities, exploit mineral resources and above all to bear down heavily on people for political intransigence. Contrary to the claims of a 'rare opportunity' for the minority nationalities, this project represents a period of emergency and darkness."

In the letter, Yulo Dawa Tsering also referred to the conditions of political prisoners at Drapchi, referring to the aftermath of the prison protests in May 1998 that led to the deaths of at least nine prisoners: "In Drapchi, the living conditions for political prisoners are reported to be desperately poor and inadequate. Since 4 May 1998 the political prisoners have been subjected to constant observation and monitoring by the prison authorities. They are not allowed any kind of books or newspapers, let alone to watch television or listen to the radio. If a political prisoner so much as recites some prayers, the prison guards single them out for severe beatings. Under such a repressive policy, many political prisoners have lost their lives, in or outside the prison. Many have been rendered cripples or physically handicapped. Generally speaking, political prisoners who have obtained their release and are said to have been set free among the community are actually subjected to monitoring by their local Public Security Bureau. Their freedom of movement is severely restricted and they are banned from undertaking any work or travel without prior permission from the government authorities."

One of the former Drapchi prisoners told TIN: "It seems that Kushog Yulo was always very positive while in prison at the end of the 1980s, when political demonstrations were happening — he used to say that the Chinese would change their policy in Tibet soon and that freedom was near. But after his release it seems he was more realistic about the situation, he said that freedom was a possibility for Tibet, but it would not be easy to achieve." The former Ganden monk said: "He became disillusioned when he saw that there was no one looking after the political prisoners as they had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He always felt a great responsibility for former political prisoners in Lhasa, particularly the Ganden monks who had called for his release during a demonstration [in the Barkor] in March 1988."

Yulo Dawa Tsering's health had been deteriorating for several years. According to a report received by TIN last year, he was having trouble moving around and walking, and he was unable to do the "kora" around the Barkor (the pilgrimage circuit). A friend of his who is now in exile told TIN that he also suffered from depression in the latter years of his life. He said: "After his release from prison, he was often taken in for questioning and held for short periods in detention. He didn't have a moment's peace, right up to the day he died."

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