Jigme, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, says he had just finished having a pair of shoes mended when four uniformed guards jumped from a white van and dragged him inside.
Suppressing his calls to a passing nun for help, they shoved a sack over his head and drove him to a guesthouse run by the local paramilitary People’s Armed Police.
What followed, according to Jigme, was two months of interrogation and abuse over his suspected role in this spring’s uprising against Chinese rule across Tibet and a broad swath of Tibetan-inhabited regions in western China.
His telephone interview with The Associated Press on Friday gives one of the few detailed first-person accounts of the crackdown on the riots and protests that continue six months after the events.
Chinese authorities contacted by phone said they had no information about Jigme’s case, making his claims impossible to verify.
But the basic facts of his story correspond with testimony given by monks and nuns detained in previous campaigns and widely reported by credible overseas human rights groups.
While Beijing says an unspecified number of people have been detained following the protests, it has given no details about their treatment.
Jigme has also posted a video account of his ordeals on Youtube.com.
The 42-year-old monk, who like many Tibetans uses just one name, said he took no part in the sometimes violent protests that followed deadly rioting in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa on March 14.
Many Tibetans consider themselves a separate nation from China, whose communist forces occupied the region in 1951, and have long chafed under Chinese rule.
Jigme said he suspects he was targeted by authorities for speaking to foreign media and overseas rights groups, the apparent basis for the charge of “illegally providing intelligence” brought against him.
Jigme said he was detained on March 21 and questioned for two days at the People’s Armed Police guesthouse in the Gansu province town of Xiahe that surrounds the Labrang monastery complex where he lives. He was then driven with others to a prison in the nearby town of Linxia where he says conditions were extremely harsh.
“They demanded to know if I was a leader of the protest and what contact I had with the Dalai Lama,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Jigme told the AP by phone Friday from what he described only as a “safe place” near Labrang.
“They hung me up by my hands and beat me hard all over with their fists,” he said. Similar treatment was meted out to other Tibetan prisoners, while family members were refused permission to bring them additional food and warm clothing, he said.
Jigme said he was hospitalized twice. The second time, after lying unconscious for six days and apparently on the verge of death from internal injuries, he was handed over to his family, who took him to another hospital where he recovered after 20 days of treatment and rest, Jigme said.
He said he received a conditional medical release under which his case remains unresolved.
Following his recovery in late May, Jigme said he returned to Labrang, where he is a member of the Gyuto Dratsang, or Upper Tantric College, one of the monastery’s six institutes of learning.
He said outraged monks told of police raids on their quarters in which 188 were briefly detained on suspicion of taking part in the March rioting. All but nine were released two days later. The others, who admitted taking part in the protests, were released after a few weeks.
“They were really angry. They were forced out of their beds in the middle of the night, their living quarters searched and property stolen, and no explanation was ever given as to why,” Jigme said. He said five other Labrang monks remain in custody over the protests and 20 others were in hiding.
Jigme said political indoctrination campaigns had intensified at Labrang, with monks forced to attend twice-weekly “patriotic education” classes where they are told to shun all contact with the Dalai Lama and his followers, who are accused by China of fomenting the spring protests. The Dalai Lama has denied the claims and condemned the violence.
A police officer contacted by phone in Xiahe, who gave only his surname, Liu, said he had no information about Jigme’s case. Officials at the Communist Party management committee at Labrang and at the Linxia Detention Center also said they had no knowledge of such a case and refused to give their names, as is common among Chinese authorities not authorized to speak with the media.
Jigme said he had remained at Labrang until earlier this week when security agents visited his home. He said he would continue speaking out until detained again.
“I’m not afraid of being taken in,” he said. “I have no regrets. I’m not guilty of anything.”