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Prominent Tibetan Political Prisoner Released

FILE - A monk holds a picture of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama inside of his room at Labrang Monastery in Xiahe county, Gansu Province.
FILE - A monk holds a picture of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama inside of his room at Labrang Monastery in Xiahe county, Gansu Province.

Rongye Adrak appeared at his home in Lithang, Tibet, about 1:00 a.m. Friday, after spending eight years in a Chinese prison. He was accompanied by Lithang County police and Mianyang Prison officials, his exiled relatives in India said.

Notwithstanding his quiet appearance, the 60-year-old Adrak is considered a hero by many Tibetans for speaking his mind about Chinese rule in Tibet and calling for the return of the Dalai Llama.

Atrug Tseten, a relative and member of Tibet's parliament in exile, told the VOA Tibetan Service that Adrak “seemed okay.” Tseten said Adrak was moved out of prison on July 27 and taken a hospital to check on his health.

“They declared his health was good,” Tseten says. “But that is what the county and prison officials said.”

Tibetan political prisoners have reportedly suffered serious health problems on release from prison. Many died shortly after release.

'Never should have been in prison'

Rongye Adrak was arrested after he publicly criticized the Chinese authorities and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet on August 1, 2007. Later in that month, he was charged with "provocation to subvert state power” and sentenced to eight years.

Human rights activists say what Adrak did was legal under the Chinese constitution.

“Having to serve eight years in prison itself is illegal,” says Tsering Tsomo, the head of India based Tibet Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

“Rongye Adrak is a classic example of somebody who never should have been in prison in the first place,” says Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch. “All he did was, wholly within the confines of Chinese law, peacefully expressed his views about the Chinese government and about his desire for the Dalai Lama to return.”

No heroes' welcome

Recently, local Chinese authorities told the Tibetans in Lithang that Rongye Adrak was about to finish his prison term, but that they were not allowed to gather to welcome Adrak or have picnics to celebrate his freedom. They did not give the date of his release.

Tibetans in many areas often gather and give a heroes' welcome to released Tibetan political prisoners. Tseten believes the reason Adrak was brought home at night was to avoid such embarrassment for the Chinese authorities.

Lithang and Nyagchu counties, both are in Ganze Prefecture, have been under severe restrictions since the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, another high profile Tibetan political prisoner, in Chinese prison on July 12. Phone lines were cut for many days and a military deployment continues, according to Tibetans in exile who have close connections to the area.

China accuses the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan groups of inciting instability in Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he only seeks a “genuine autonomy” for the Tibetans.