Authorities notified Ngawang Sangdrol of departure for U.S. at last minute

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2003--Ngawang Sangdrol, the Tibetan political prisoner who obtained a Chinese exit visa last week to seek medical treament abroad, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that Chinese authorities didn't officially inform her that she was to leave for the United States until just before she boarded a Chicago-bound airliner.

In an hour-long interview with RFA's Tibetan service, she also described harrowing physical abuse by guards at Lhasa's notorious Drapchi 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 was initially reported to be the longest-serving female political prisoner in Tibet, but Phuntsog Nyidrol--detained continually since October 1989--has spent more time in Chinese jails for peacefully protesting Chinese rule in Tibet. Chinese officials say she is currently scheduled for release in March 2005.

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 plumbing pipes on her head until it bled heavily. 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," she said. "Before leaving, I was told to sign a statement saying that I wouldn't say or do anything anti-China. I signed the statement. I don't consider what I am telling you today to be anti-China."

Ngawang Sangdrol arrived in Chicago late Friday after securing a visa permitting her to seek medical treatment in the United States. The final details of her departure from China were reportedly arranged during talks in December between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne Craner and his Chinese counterparts.In the past, China has released or exiled prominent dissidents ahead of high-level meetings with U.S. officials, and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to visit China in April.

Several Western governments are known to have raised her case with the Chinese authorities.

A Buddhist nun who is now in her mid- 20s, Ngawang Sangdrol was first detained at age 13. She was paroled from Drapchi Prison on Oct. 18, 2002, nine years before completing her sentence. A nun at the Garu nunnery, she took part in pro-independence protests in Lhasa in 1987-88.

Ngawang Sangdrol�s sentence was extended three times to a total of 21 years after she and other nuns engaged in prison protests. At one point during her detention, Ngawang Sangdrol and 13 other jailed nuns secretly tape-recorded songs touching on their love for Tibet and for their families. They smuggled out a cassette tape, and Ngawang Sangdrol's sentence was extended by six years.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.#####


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