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Tibetan activist freed after 17 years in prison in China

BEIJING — A Tibetan activist whose long detention by Chinese authorities drew international scrutiny has been freed after serving 17 years in prison, exile groups reported Tuesday.

The activist, Jigme Gyatso, 52, who returned to his hometown in China’s northwest Gansu Province Monday, was said to be extremely frail after years of torture and poor medical care, according to Radio Free Asia and the exiled Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India.

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‘‘He was limping and reported having heart problems and high blood pressure,’’ a friend, Jamyang Tsultrim, told Radio Free Asia. ‘‘His vision was also weak.’’

A former monk, Jigme Gyatso was sentenced for ‘‘leading a counter-revolutionary organization’’ after he and a group of friends secretly advocated Tibetan independence. The crimes he was accused of by a Chinese court in 1996 included a role in distributing pro-independence leaflets and hanging a banned Tibetan flag at the Ganden monastery near Lhasa.

Although the Chinese government has jailed hundreds of Tibetans for political crimes, Jigme Gyatso’s case garnered international attention after the authorities allowed Manfred Nowak, the UN representative, to speak to him in 2005 during a visit to the prison where he was being held. In his report, Nowak urged officials to release Jigme Gyatso and cited the widespread use of electric batons, exposure to extreme temperatures, and sleep deprivation in Chinese prisons.

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