China Tibet
China Tibet

Authorities in southwestern China's Sichuan province have released a Tibetan monk from prison after he served a four-year sentence for pulling down a Chinese flag and scattering leaflets calling for Tibetan freedom, Tibetan sources said.

Sonam Gonpo, 26, a monk at the Dza Wonpo monastery, returned to his home in Sershul (in Chinese, Shiqu) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on March 12, a Tibetan living in India told RFA's Tibetan Service.

"His current state of health remains unknown," said RFA's source, Jampa Yonten, citing contacts in the region.

News of Gonpo's release was briefly delayed from reaching outside contacts because of strict communications clampdowns imposed by Chinese authorities in the area.

"In 2012, Sonam Gonpo pulled down the Chinese national flag at a local school and hoisted the Tibetan national flag in its place," Yonten said. "China later sentenced him to four years in prison on the charge of pulling down the flag and for distributing leaflets."

A companion, Sonam Choedar, was detained at the same time and has also completed his sentence, but has not yet been released, Yonten said.

Both men initially were held for nine months in secret with no word given to their family members, and were sentenced Sept. 11, 2013, the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a March 23 statement.

"The reason for the arrest of Sonam Gonpo [and Sonam Choedar] was in February 2012," said TCHRD director, Tsering Tsomo. The area around Gonpo's native Wonpo Township has been held under tight restrictions ever since protests challenging Beijing's rule swept Tibetan areas of China in 2008, he added.

"Monks at Wonpo monastery had steadfastly refused to hoist Chinese flags on their monastery, and the ensuing crackdown led to scores of arbitrary detentions, arrests and unlawful searches of Tibetan homes by Chinese security personnel."

According to VOA's Tibetan Service, another Tibetan monk, Khomatsang Jigme, 45, of Jolep village in Ngaba, was released from Mein-Yang prison in Sichuan Province on March 12.

Reported by Sonam Wangdu for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney. This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Tibetan Service.