Tibetan tells of Chinese torture

Monk's 24 years of electric shocks

EVERY day for 24 years in a Chinese prison, even when they splashed him with boiling water or jolted him with 7,000 volts by shoving an electric baton into his mouth, a Tibetan monk named Palden Gyatso never stopped pestering his tormentors with the same question: "Where is my wristwatch you stole? I want it back."

The wristwtch become for Palden Gyatso a symbol of defiance. He says: "The watch was my survival. I wasn't going to accept that they stole it, just as I wasn't going to accept any of the things they were doing to me and the other Tibetans."

Palden Gyatso is a slight, wizened man, far more ancient-looking than his 64 years. His long stretch in prison for opposing the Chinese invasion of Tibet has shrunk him to skin and bone. The electric shocks he suffered knocked his teeth out. His arms are permanently bent from having been tied to the ceiling in a Chinese torture known as the "airplane", and he is deaf from his jailers' practice of removing their shoes and hitting him on the ears.

"Even when they put the electric baton in my mouth, I almost felt I was winning because I didn't die. I knew that if I didn't die I would be able to tell the world what was happening inside Tibetan prisons."

The monk also knew that his words alone were not testimony strong enough against the Chinese. So after release from Drapchi prison, near the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in 1992, he secretly began collecting money from Tibetan friends to bribe a Chinese official into selling him the electric baton and other torture instruments.

"The Chinese didn't do this because he was a good man but a greedy man," said the old monk, who paid 800 yuan, the equivalent of three months' salary for a Tibetan, just for the baton. Then, at enormous personal risk, the monk and his friends smuggled the instruments out of Tibet, walking for more than two weeks across the Himalayan mountains to safety in Nepal.

Palden Gyatso's time to tell the world about his nightmare has finally come: he has been invited to speak in the House of Lords tomorrow. His harrowing prison tales strengthen allegations made by Tibetans that Peking has consistently carried out human rights violations since 1959, when their country's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, was driven into exile.

His worst moment was in 1966 when some prisoners were forced to sign a "confession" that justified their execution. "On the day they were to be shot, the Chinese forced them to sing and dance in front of us other prisoners. We all cried. We were even denied the dignity to die our own way."

Palden and the other prisoners who were spared were forced to watch the execution by firing squad. There was one monk who didn't die even after seven shots had been fired at him. "The executioners dragged him to a pit and buried him alive."

Palden Gyatso gives the impression of someone who has made a conscious effort to recall every detail of his prison life, even while the worst was happening, and despite the pain and fears these memories stirred up. The nightmares have not left him, even in his Indian sanctuary of Dharamsala. "When I was still in prison at night I dreamt of the horrible things that might be happening to me the next day. In India you could say I'm free, that I've a happy life. But I still can't sleep worrying about the Tibetans in prison that I've had to leave behind."

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