Aug 15, 2006

Tibet: Former Political Prisoner Addresses UN Human Rights Sub-Commission

On 14 August 2006, at the 58th Session of Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Ms. Phuntsog Nyidron spoke about the consistent pattern of violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the Tibetan people, and in particular, those of the Tibetan political prisoners.
August 14th, 2006

Human Rights Council
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Fifty-eighth session, Agenda Item 2

Oral Statement by Ms. Phuntsog Nyidron, Society for Threatened Peoples

Mr. Chairperson,
My name is Phuntsog Nyidron and I am making this statement on behalf of the Society for Threatened Peoples. By relating my own personal experience of 15 years in Chinese prison and Chinese officials' torture and humiliation, I wish to inform the Sub-Commission about the consistent pattern of violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the Tibetan people, and in particular, those of the Tibetan political prisoners.

Ladies and gentlemen,
I was 19 years old when I participated in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet that resulted in my imprisonment. It happened in October 1989, when Tibet, was under martial law. Together with five fellow Tibetan nuns, I went to the central Lhasa, and we shouted, 'Long live the Dalai Lama!' and 'Free Tibet.' We had been inspired by the news that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, and we wanted to make a statement of our continued loyalty to him.
Following my arrest I was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment denied of legal representations. In 1993, along with 13 other political prisoners (all nuns) we secretly recorded songs in the prison that were in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and about the situation of the political prisoners. On account of this, my sentence was extended by eight years, making my total sentence 17 years. Through these songs, we also wanted to communicate to our families that our spirits had not been broken.

Mr. Chairperson, I did not experience freedom again until I was finally released to the United States on 15 March of this year. Since June I have come to live in Switzerland to continue the medical treatment that I received in the United States. In prison even if I had many health problems, adequate medical treatment was routinely denied to political prisoners. For instance, one of my prison mates died in 1995 when the Chinese authorities failed to provide immediate medical facilities.
Now that I live in freedom I am beginning to learn of the many rights that the Chinese authorities are said to be providing to the prisoners. I am informed that there is a Prison Law of China promulgated in 1994 that "stipulates specifically that prisoners have the right of immunity from corporal punishment and abuses, the right of appeal, the right of communication, the right of meeting visiting family members and relatives, the right to education, the right to rest, the right to receive remuneration for work, the right to labor protection and labor insurance, and the right to receive medical treatment; they enjoy equal rights with other citizens upon their release after completing their sentence term."
I can say with confidence that the Tibetan political prisoners do not enjoy any of the above rights today. As far as enjoying equal rights after release is concerned, I was not even allowed to return to my nunnery to pursue my religious education. In fact, former political prisoners have to hide their background to seek employment or other opportunities in the society.

Whilst in prison, we underwent unimaginable torture. It was routine for prisoners to be beaten with iron bars and electric-shock prods for daring to express their views and for refusing to submit to communist political education. Sometimes we were beaten unconscious and had to be dragged back to our cells. During my initial months of detention, prison guards had my finger nails poked with the needle of the shoe-sewing machine. Five nuns died from beatings and torture following a May 1998 prison protest at Drapchi Prison. I learn that although Amnesty International has called for an official investigation, the Chinese authorities have so far failed to provide a full account on how the five nuns died.

Mr. Chairperson, it was due to the regular beatings and the fact that three of our colleagues were punished to solitary confinement, that we were convinced we would die at the hands of the security personnel and chose to stage a hunger strike to take our own lives. There was no other way through which our grievances would be heard. We knew how physically we had suffered due to the inadequate, meager and unhygienic prison food. We only stopped the strike after four and half days when we were assured that the security personnel would not be used to beat us.

My protest in 1989 was entirely peaceful, and yet I served 15 years in prison denied of all legal rights. It was routine for Communist China to treat political prisoners as the worst kind of criminals and with this policy our rights guaranteed in China's laws were denied. For example, during the monthly family visits, general prisoners are allowed to see a total of three members of their family. However, when it came to political prisoners, only one member of our family would be allowed to visit us. Sometimes even the monthly family visit would be denied to us. Although the prison had some vocational sections, again political prisoners would never be given the opportunity to learn certain skills.

In February 2004, I was suddenly released from prison but nevertheless continued to undergo difficulties. I was under constant surveillance with two policemen posted at our home. It was during this time that the Chinese authorities took me to meet foreign delegations, including the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. However, at the time of these meetings, I had no clear knowledge of who these people were or about their work. I only understood the significance of these visits to me only after coming to the United States.

I am an ordinary Tibetan from a peasant family and like the other political prisoners in the Chinese prisons in Tibet I have undergone immense hardship. After all these years in prison, I owe my freedom firstly to the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and also to those Governments, Parliaments, NGOs and UN human rights bodies that have shown their concern for the Tibetan political prisoners by putting pressure on the Chinese Government.

Mr. Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen, it was when I was in prison that this Sub-Commission adopted a historic resolution on Tibet on 23 August 1991. Although we could not openly express our joys or directly convey our gratitude to the Sub-Commission at that time, I wish to, today, on behalf of the Tibetan people, especially the political prisoners of Tibet, say a very big thank you for your expression of concern. It meant a lot for us when we were languishing in the dark, cold and squalid prison cells!

In conclusion, despite China's claim of the situation being better, I can say that even today Tibetans in Tibet do not enjoy those rights that are even guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution. I stand before you today as a testimony to the fact that international concern and intervention on the deplorable human rights situation in Tibet does have an effect. While I rejoice in my freedom I urge the United Nations human rights bodies not to forget the very many Tibetans who have been imprisoned solely for voicing their strong feelings towards their religious, national and cultural identity and for peaceful expression of their belief in the non-violent freedom struggle of Tibet.

I thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
Ms. Phuntsog Nyidron

Photo courtesy Tibet Bureau Geneva