Kunchok Tsephel (born 1970), founder of the website ‘Chodme’ or ‘Butter Lamp’, was arrested on 26 February 2009 after his home was raided and searched by Chinese authorities. The website he founded was a self-funded project and joint venture with poet Kyabchen Dedrol, that aimed to promote Tibetan literature in the People’s Republic of China. Following his arrest, Kunchok Tsephel’s computer, mobile phone and other belongings were seized, and the website he founded has since been shut down.
History of arrests
A writer and teacher of the Tibetan language, Kunchok Tsephel was first arrested in 1994. Returning from a Tibetan language study tour in India, he was immediately detained upon his arrival in China, whereupon he was held and tortured for two months. After this, he was released without being charged.
Following his 2009 arrest, Kunchok Tsephel was held incommunicado for eight months. His family and friends knew nothing of his well-being and whereabouts until they were told the verdict of his secret trial. The Intermediate People’s Court in Kanlho sentenced him to 15 years in prison for allegedly ‘divulging state secrets’, though the nature of these supposed state secrets has not been disclosed.
Friends who were able to attend his sentencing reported that Kunchok Tsephel was in poor health, possibly due to mistreatment by authorities and old injuries as a result of his torture in the 1990s. There are serious concerns about his well-being, as well as that of his sick daughter who is dependent on his income.
One of his friends said: “His family endured nine months of agonising waiting after Kunchok disappeared in February… He has been denied access to a lawyer.”
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported in March 2022 that Kunchok Tsephel was released after serving 13 years of his 15-year sentence. Tsering Tsomo from TCHRD stated that he was released for “good behaviour” in prison including saving a fellow prisoner’s life.
Although his health condition is currently unknown, Tsering Tsomo said that Kunchok is now “back with his family”.