Paljor Norbu

Elderly Tibetan craftsman arrested for printing the Tibetan flag

On 31 October 2008, Paljor Norbu (born 1927), a skilled traditional printer, was abducted from his home by Chinese police. He was held incommunicado for a month, before being sentenced at a secret trial in November, where he was given a seven-year prison term for ‘printing illegal materials’, including the banned Tibetan flag.

It is reported that correct legal procedures were not followed during Paljor’s trial, and he was not permitted any legal representation in court. He should have been released from prison in 2015; however, his current whereabouts are unknown.

Out of business

Paljor Norbu

Paljor Norbu

Paljor’s family printing business in Barkhor, which employed dozens of local workers, had produced various cultural and religious materials, including sacred Buddhist texts for monasteries. Following his arrest, however, all the printing blocks at the workshop were seized by Chinese authorities and the shop was closed. Employees were only informed of the shop’s closure by a sign placed on the door by police, warning workers not to return.

His 2009 arrest brought an end to a traditional printing business that had been operating for decades. Paljor Norbu was regarded as a master of his craft. He started his career as an apprentice printer at age 11, working as a printer for the Tibetan government in Lhasa as an adult and printing sacred Buddhist texts for several prominent monasteries using traditional woodblock techniques, including one set of the 224 volumes of the ‘Narthan Tengyur’. Paljor’s printing business had survived decades of Chinese occupation, including the tumultuous Cultural Revolution when Tibetan culture was viciously suppressed, and woodblocks like those he used were burned.

Judicial authorities did not inform Paljor’s family about his whereabouts, and his advanced age makes relatives even more worried. At the time of his arrest, a source said: “The family wants to know what prison he is in because it is getting cold, he is very old, and they want to get warm clothes and blankets to him.

International Freedom to Publish Award

In 2009, shortly after his imprisonment, Paljor Norbu was awarded the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award by the International Freedom to Publish Committee of the Association of American Publishers. The award was officially presented on 28 April 2009, recognising Paljor’s “commitment to Tibetan culture and publishing in the face of great political obstacles and personal peril”. The presenting organisation condemned Paljor’s imprisonment and China’s treatment of writers overall, calling for the printer’s exoneration and immediate release.

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