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Tsegyam grew up in a large semi-nomadic family in restive Aba county, in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of northwestern Sichuan province. Thirty-four when we interviewed him, he had been in Dharamsala, seat of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan "government-in-exile," since 1992 and had a secure position in the "government-in-exile" as director of the security department's research and analysis division.

Tsegyam was a teacher in Aba. Between 1980 and 1983, he studied at a teacher training school in Barkham, the prefectural capital, where he had first-hand experience with discrimination. He then returned to Aba where he taught Tibetan at a middle school until 1988. That year he resigned from teaching and went to further his own studies at the Southwest Nationalities Institute, a government-run college, in Chengdu, Sichuan. By that time, he had thought a lot about Tibetan identity. Some of his interest came from family stories and some from talking with friends and people he considered influential. But the main source of his concern came from the reading he had done secretly while still at the teacher training school. As he grew more familiar with Tibetan culture and history, he grew to think he had a duty to preserve what he regarded as its unique character, and he became an activist.

The events that led to Tsegyam's eventual flight to India started on June 13, 1988 when four large posters appeared on the main Aba street at the time of a major local religious festival. Four feet high, they called for the Chinese to leave Tibet, supported the Dalai Lama as both the political and spiritual leader of Tibet, and wished him long life. While it was two of his former students who actually hung the posters at the intersection of four roads in Aba and at Kirti and Se monasteries and distributed independence leaflets on a well-traveled bridge that spanned the Ngachu river in Aba, Tsegyam said it was he who was responsible for writing the materials in Tibetan and Chinese and he who had supervised the students.

In February 1989, eight months after the posters appeared, the Public Security Bureau (PSB), China's police, was finally ready to arrest the perpetrators. Tsegyam was in Aba at the time, home on holiday from his studies in Chengdu. He said one of his students managed to flee and eventually made his way to Switzerland, but a second student, Dargye, was quickly caught. For three days, Dargye was held with his hands cuffed so that one arm was extended over his shoulder and met the other in back. At the same time he was badly beaten in an effort to get him to name names. When the police finally told him that they knew he had been accompanied by a teacher, Dargye implicated Tsegyam.5

One week after Dargye was detained, four Aba county policemen and one from the prefecture came to arrest Tsegyam at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. "They told me to come with them and they would explain the matter at the police station. They took me away in a Beijing Jeep. I never saw a warrant." Tsegyam found out later that some officials ransacked his quarters in Chengdu.

Tsegyam's interrogation at the Aba County Detention Center was, he said, intense but not physically traumatic. As he recounted:

[It was mental torture; I could have stood physical torture....] Because I was considered an intellectual, they didn't beat or [physically torture me.] I was interrogated for one month except for one or two days, from 8:00 in the morning until 12:00, sometimes even during lunch, then from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. and from 6 to8 p.m. I was asked about my contacts with the Tibetan "government-in-exile," who encouraged me to put up posters, what the posters said. And they asked me what I knew about socialism, capitalism, and the system in Russia. They even asked if I learned psychology and what it was. I don't know why. During the break, one officer would tell me that if I told the truth, they'd give me money and a high post. He boasted that he had promoted and demoted people.

After the month, the deputy director of the prefecture-level Public Security Bureau questioned me for fifteen days. For the next two and a half months, no one paid any attention to me. I was told to think. After four months, PSB officials told me, "You're a teacher, a scholar. You're educated. Until now you have been looked after by the Chinese government. Now it's your chance to do something for us-be an informer."

With that, Tsegyam was released, but he could not return to school and was under constant surveillance.

I had to report to the police station once a week. I had to tell what I did during the week; who I met with; what this person or that person said; what people thought of Tibetan independence; what I had learned from the outside. But I had nothing to report. It went on like this for four months. During the last month I was free, they told me I absolutely had to do something for my country. They said they were giving me this opportunity. But I told them that I couldn't do any more than I was already doing. Finally I said, "Arrest me."

In early November 1989, Tsegyam was arrested for the second time.

I was called to the PSB office. They told me I hadn't reported anything. After one week, the procuracy issued a formal arrest warrant (qisushu) for the crime of counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. The Aba prefecture procuracy questioned me for about thirteen days and the people's court for one day. I was not offered a lawyer. I defended myself.

A committee composed of three high officials, one each from the court, procuracy, and the Public Security Bureau, decided that Tsegyam's trial should be public. But the process did not work out quite the way they envisioned it. "They thought," he said, "that judging me in public would help educate the people. But my public answer to the charges included calling out `Long Live the Dalai Lama,' and after that trials were closed."

In addition to the three judges, two procurators, and one secretary, about 500 people, mostly Tibetan and many government and Communist Party cadres, observed the March 1990 trial."The court had 200 spaces," Tsegyam said, "so people were standing in the hallways and in the streets where they could listen to the loudspeakers. Video, audio, photos, and note taking were banned. There were twenty to thirty PSB officials spread out among the public."

The trial lasted three hours, from 9:00 a.m. until noon, and it was conducted in Chinese.

As the court police brought me in by jeep, the announcement was made, "Now we are bringing the accused." I was in handcuffs. The charges were read, and the judge asked me if I accepted them. I argued against the charges, but it didn't help. Instead, I was accused of bad behavior. The judges left the courtroom for fifteen minutes and then came back with the sentence: one year.

Tsegyam argued that the four months he had been in detention and the four months that he had been sent to inform should be counted as time served. Only the first four were deducted. In addition to his one-year sentence, Tsegyam was deprived for a second year of his political rights, including the right to speak and associate freely.

Chinese authorities would not permit Tsegyam to return to his studies at the Southwest Nationalities Institute in Chengdu after his release in July 1990, and the Aba middle school where he had taught was only willing to takehim back on a part-time basis and for much less money, 100 renminbi (approximately U.S.$14) per month as compared to the 280 renminbi he had previously earned. Even so, the job lasted just two months, until the Sichuan provincial government revoked his right to teach.

Tsegyam's choices were limited. He applied to the public service job bureau and to the Sichuan People's Government for work, admitting what he had done but insisting that he had served his sentence and should be assigned a job. He never received a response. Fortunately, he was able to keep his living quarters at the school, and he could and did stay with his parents part of the time.

But, rather than do nothing, Tsegyam borrowed money from friends and for seven months, from February through August 1991, he traveled through parts of Kham and Amdo to conduct research and gain experience. He spent a month in Guoluo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and three months in Haidong Prefecture, both in Qinghai province. After two months traveling in Chamdo in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and in Dege and Kangding in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, he spent another month in Chengdu.

He spent some time at Kirti monastery, studying with two geshe (holders of the highest scholastic degrees within the Tibetan monastic system). Tsegyam's primary goals were to learn what Tibetans thought about independence and to inform Tibetans living in remote areas about Tibetan issues.

In July, as part of his trip, Tsegyam traveled to the Tibet-Nepal border to examine conditions there and to see if he was still under surveillance. Once home, with no work, he spent his time reading religious texts and books. In April 1992, Tsegyam and Tsering Lhamo, his former student and later secretary to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress, were married. After she told her work unit she was planning a honeymoon and visits to relatives, the couple fled Sichuan for Dharamsala, arriving in India on May 18, 1992. In no time, Tsegyam passed the civil service exam of the Tibetan "government-in-exile" with flying colors.

5 Dargye had to endure four more months of torture before he was finally released. He died in 1993, and Tsegyam said he believed Dargye's death was the result of his treatment in detention. Dargye told Tsegyam when they met in 1990 that he had a damaged liver and irregular heartbeat since his imprisonment.

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