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Tibetan former political prisoner dies from chronic ill health

Pema Wangchen dies from unspecified health issues following release from prison

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Pema Wangchen, a former political detainee in his early thirties, passed away in a hospital in Chengdu on Friday 26 April. His death was linked to the torture he was subjected to while in police custody following his arrest in April 2016.

The arrest took place subsequent to video footage of Pema Wangchen singing the Tibetan national anthem going viral online and coming to the attention of the police. The video was filmed on 13 February 2016 in a public place in Wangchen’s native Ogzang Township in Kardze, eastern Tibet, during celebrations of the Tibetan New Year. Apprehended when he was driving, Pema Wangchen was given no explanation for his arrest. With the police not even providing an arrest warrant, he is reported to have believed that he was stopped for driving without a licence.

Torture for singing

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The reason for Pema Wangchen’s arrest was only made clear when he was in detention. He was interrogated by police, questioned about any songs that he might have sung, and in total spent one month and four days in police custody. He was severely beaten and tortured during this time. Due to his deteriorating health, he was released from custody in early May 2016.

A relative of Wangchen living in exile has said that Wangchen was in poor health when he was released. Wangchen subsequently suffered from health problems and his condition continued to deteriorate over the next three years. He was taken to a hospital in Kardze on 21 April 2019 but doctors there were unable to determine or treat his illness. After three days he was taken to Sān Liù Sān Hospital in Chengdu, where he died two days later.

Punishment for Wanghen’s family

Pema Wangchen was a single father to three children and a driver by profession. He had briefly studied in India and later returned to Tibet. Besides his now orphaned children, Pema Wangchen is survived by his mother, Khaga, and his father, Pega.

Pema Wangchen’s brother, Palden Trinley, is a monk from Kardze Monastery who was arrested in 2008 with two other monks who marched through the street in Kardze shouting "Long live the Dalai Lama”. Palden Trinley served seven years in prison and was released in May 2015, although he has been prohibited from returning to the monastery.

As further punishment the Chinese authorities have withheld public benefits from the family. A measure especially impactive on his children, after Pema Wangchen’s release from detention in early 2016, benefits were withheld due to two family members having been political prisoners.