Exiled Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso described his 33-year imprisonment in Tibet and the torture he endured at the hands of his Chinese captors in a speech to more than 80 students Thursday night at the GW Law School.
Gyatso said prisoners were given only one ladle of soup per day and forced to plow the fields using large iron plows.
“Many people died of starvation,” Gyatso said. “In the fields, if a prisoner fell and could not stand up again, the guards declared them dead even if they were still alive, and tied their hands and feet and left them there to die. There was nothing any of the rest of us could do to help.”
Gyatso said he was imprisoned in 1959 for shouting slogans decrying Chinese occupation of Tibet and advocating Tibetan autonomy. He was released from prison in 1992 only after Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of consciousness” and an Italian branch of the organization fought nine years for his release.
Gyatso displayed devices he said guards routinely used on him and other prisoners, including two cattle prods. He said guards tied up prisoners and beat them if they refused to accept Tibet as part of China.
“No matter how much they tortured us, we would not give up, we would not change our beliefs,” Gyatso said. “So they changed their methods, and in 1987 began using electric cattle prods on prisoners.”
Students grimaced and gasped as Gyatso explained that in October 1990, a guard jammed an electrified cattle prod into his mouth, making all his teeth to fall out.
After his lecture, Gyatso took questions from the audience on a variety of subjects, including his opinion of the presence of NATO forces in Kosovo.
“I think (NATO’s actions) are appropriate, because human life is very valuable and someone must take action to stop the killing of these ethnic Albanians,” Gyatso said. “I am opposed to violence, but I feel it must be stopped. It is not fair that the stronger, those with weapons and power, continue to kill the weaker.”
Freshman Tanya Margolin, a member of Students for a Free Tibet, said she came to hear Gyatso speak on the advice of a friend from another university who had heard him.
“It was so powerful,” she said. “I heard the Dalai Lama speak before, but this was different because he spoke more about Buddhism, where (Gyatso) spoke more on what it was like to be imprisoned.”
“I was shocked by so many things he said,” freshman Sara Kerr said. “When he first brought the cattle prods out, I didn’t even know what they were.”
Gyatso said he is hopeful one day Tibet will be free from Chinese occupation. He said he hopes events such as last summer’s Tibetan Freedom Concert and the recent attention brought to the plight of Tibetans will pressure the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet.
“I say to the Chinese government, the world is watching you and they will not continue to only watch,” he said. “I strongly believe that these supporters are stronger than even the most advanced weapons. I have truth on my side, and I have nothing to fear.”