Tibetan Nun Dies After Years of Ill Health Following Prison Term

tibet-ngawang-tsomo-1000.jpg Ngawang Tsomo in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

A Tibetan nun and former political prisoner, jailed for seven years after calling for an end to Chinese rule in Tibet, has died of complications arising from a chronic ailment she developed after being subjected to torture and poor living conditions during her incarceration, according to Tibetan sources.

Ngawang Tsomo, 51, died on Jan. 27 in Phenpo Lhundrub (in Chinese, Linzhou) county in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Lhasa (Lasa) prefecture after her health began to deteriorate last year, a source inside Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity.

“In the summer, she went on retreat in Phenpo Lhundrub county, when her health condition became much worse,” said the source.

“She had developed an acute headache while she was in prison and, after her release, she was unable to seek proper medication for her failing health … As her condition recently became serious, she was taken to the hospital in Phenpo Lhundrub, but she passed away in the corridor of the building while waiting to receive treatment.”

The cause of Tsomo’s death was not immediately clear.

According to sources, Tsomo was arrested in 1993 and initially held in the Gutsa detention center after taking part in a peaceful protest along with several other people in Tibet’s capital Lhasa calling for an end to Chinese rule in Tibet.

A court sentenced her to seven years in jail “in a sham trial, without any due process,” before being moved to Lhasa’s Drapchi Prison, said a second source, who also asked to remain unnamed.

“While in jail at Drapchi Prison, like all other political prisoners, she faced inhumane treatment at the hands of the Chinese prisoner guards,” the source said.

Tsomo was among a group of inmates at Drapchi who in 1998 called for freedom in Tibet after prison authorities attempted to force them to salute China’s flag and sing the national anthem. Guards fired live rounds at the prisoners, killing two, according to the source.

“The [surviving] prisoners were kept under close supervision and suffered tremendously due to retaliation from Chinese officials,” the source said.

“Though she lived through the ordeal, Ngawang Tsomo was among those who were victimized by the Chinese authorities.”

Tsomo was released in 2000 after serving her full sentence, but “her time in jail took a serious toll on her physical health, and she became chronically ill due to the torture and suffering she sustained while in detention,” according to the source.

Additionally, Tsomo was prevented from reenrolling at her former monastery, due to laws prohibiting ex-prisoners from returning to their past lives as monks and nuns, and “faced numerous challenges in society … eking out a living doing odd jobs for all of those years.”

“She had faced so much hardship while alive, and though she is gone now, her legacy and courage will not be forgotten by generations to come,” said the source.

Reported by Yangdon Demo for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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