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Tibetan activist and former political prisoner dies at 54

Kunchok Lodoe, a Tibetan activist who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for protesting against the Chinese government, died Monday at the age of 54, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Lodoe’s friends and fellow activists reported that he was in overall good health before his death on Dec. 11.

“Kunchok Lodoe was doing well the day before he died, so his death was very sudden,” former political prisoner Ngawang Sangdrol told RFA. 

“Many political prisoners die in their 40s, mostly because of the severe torture they go through while in the prison.”

Lodoe was sentenced to 13 years at Drapchi Prison in Lhasa, Tibet’s largest detention center.

But after being subjected to “tremendous physical torture,” he began experiencing serious health issues related to his liver and was released in 1995 to undergo medical treatment, Sangdrol said.

Sangdrol, a childhood friend of Lodoe who now resides in the United States, was imprisoned alongside him at Drapchi Prison in Lhasa.

Lodoe, who was born in Meldrogunkar county near Lhasa, was first arrested in 1992 for participating in a protest against the Chinese government. 

“Kunchok Lodoe, along with four other Tibetans, took to the streets on June 30, 1992, to protest the Chinese government,” Sangdrol recounted. 

“They unfurled the Tibetan flag and shouted ‘free Tibet’ outside of the building where local Chinese leaders were holding a meeting.”

“Five of us, including Kunchok Lodoe, shouted slogans such as ‘Long live the Dalai Lama,’ ‘Free Tibet,’ and ‘End China’s one-child policy,’” recounted Sonam Dorjee, a Tibetan activist who protested alongside Lodoe in 1992.

“During that time, the exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources by the Chinese government was at its peak, so we also shouted, ‘Stop exploiting our natural resources!’ We even took down a Chinese flag outside the building and unfurled our Tibetan flag. That’s why we were imprisoned.”

“We were beaten a lot during our time in prison, especially our chests and stomachs,” Dorjee, who now resides in Switzerland, told RFA. “I remember Kunchok had health issues with his liver that made him so weak and sick all the time.”

Jamphel Monlam, a former political prisoner and researcher at the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, expressed his respect for Lodoe’s activism. 

 “Kunchok Lodoe and the four other Tibetans arrested in 1992 [come from simple backgrounds] and their courage to protest in front of the Chinese authorities is commendable,” he told RFA. 

“I know they went through both physical and mental torture while in prison. It’s very sad to learn that [Lodoe] is no more.”

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Edited by Claire McCrea and Malcolm Foster.