China has released its longest-serving political prisoner, an elderly Tibetan activist jailed since 1983 for opposing Chinese rule. The move comes after months of lobbying by U.S. officials.
Human rights groups say that 76-year-old Tanak Jigme Sangpo has been freed on medical parole from a prison in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Mr. Sangpo has moved to his niece's home in Lhasa, following his release on March 31.
Dominique Muller, a researcher for the London-based rights group, Amnesty International, says that Mr. Sangpo may leave China for medical treatment abroad. "He's in very poor health and there have been lots of reports of torture, beatings and subsequent heart problems," she says.
Chinese police arrested Mr. Sangpo, a former primary school teacher, in 1983 on charges of counter-revolutionary incitement and propaganda. Mr. Sangpo was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison, but Ms. Muller says the government extended his term several times. "The last time was in 1999, when he had his sentence increased for an extra eight years for shouting the slogan "Free Tibet" during an official visit by foreign dignitaries," says Ms. Miller.
Mr. Sangpo's release comes nine years before his current sentence was due to expire.
The U.S. ambassador to China, Clark Randt, had raised Mr. Sangpo's case during a speech in Hong Kong in late January. A prominent U.S. congressman, Representative Tom Lantos, had also pressed Chinese officials for months to free the Tibetan activist.
Mr. Lantos welcomes Mr. Sangpo's release, saying in a statement Wednesday he deeply appreciates this humanitarian gesture by the Chinese government. Mr. Lantos also calls on China to release more political prisoners and make further improvements in restoring the human rights of its citizens.