WASHINGTON, March 15, 2006—A Tibetan nun who spent almost 15 years in a Chinese prison for opposing Beijing’s rule said on landing Wednesday in the United States that Chinese authorities warned her against discussing her ordeal “because my family are still in Tibet.”
Phuntsog Nyidron, who is in her mid-30s, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) her health had suffered during her years in Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi Prison and during the two years since her release to relatives in Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
She was greeted on arrival at San Francisco airport by Ngawang Sangdrol, also a Tibetan nun in exile with whom she shared a prison cell, and by Mary Beth Markey, U.S. executive director of the International Campaign for Tibet.
“I left Lhasa on Tuesday…for Beijing, and then flew to San Francisco,” she said, speaking in the Tibetan Uke dialect. “Although I was released from prison in 2004, I suffered many hardships, as did my family members. I developed three different ailments."
“I am so pleased to be in a free country like the United States, and I am extremely grateful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and others who worked for my freedom,” she said, adding: “I was also told by the Chinese authorities not to discuss my situation since my family remain in Tibet.”
I left Lhasa on Tuesday…for Beijing, and then flew to San Francisco. Although I was released from prison in 2004, I suffered many hardships, as did my family members. I developed three different ailments,
“I am so excited to meet Ngawang Sangdrol here at the airport,” she said. Phuntsog Nyidron said Chinese officials who escorted her from Lhasa to Beijing treated her well.
Phuntsog Nyidron has lived with her family in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) capital, Lhasa, since she was freed from Lhasa’s notorious Drapchi Prison on Feb. 26, 2004.
She was jailed in October 1989 on charges of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement” and handed an eight-year jail term.
In September 1993, she was convicted with 13 other prisoners of the same charge and handed an additional nine-year sentence. After accruing time off for good behavior, she had her sentenced commuted in 2004.
“It was a struggle to get her here, but they made a commitment to me two years ago to let her come over to the United States,” John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation in San Francisco, told RFA.
Phuntsog Nyidron is believed to have spent more time in Chinese jails for peacefully protesting Chinese rule in Tibet than any other female political prisoner.
Ngawang Sangdrol, her former cellmate, told RFA on arriving in the United States in 2003 that she had been beaten and tortured in prison. In one instance, she said, prison guards fired on prisoners who shouted slogans in favor of Tibetan independence during a flag-raising ceremony. “I don’t know if anyone was killed or injured, but I could clearly hear prisoners shouting, ‘They are killing us!'" she said.
Ngawang Sangdrol also described intense official surveillance following her early release from prison in 2002—nine years before her sentence was scheduled to end.
“After I was given medical parole from prison, there were still guards watching me all the time, even at home.” She said guards beat her on many occasions, once smashing mugs and pipes on her head until it bled. She also said she had agreed not to engage in “anti-Chinese” activities overseas.
“The authorities never officially told me I was leaving for America, not until the last minute before I boarded the airplane,” Ngawang Sangdrol said at the time. “Before leaving, I was told to sign a statement saying that I wouldn’t say or do anything anti-China. I signed the statement.”