China’s leader Xi Jinping’s attendance at the World Conference on Women in the UN [tomorrow], on the 20th anniversary of the same conference held in Beijing in 1995, should focus attention on the lack of freedoms of Tibetan, Uyghur and Chinese women in the PRC today.

To mark the anniversary, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, has launched the #FreeThe20 campaign calling for the release of 20 female political prisoners from 13 countries including Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu. The International Campaign for Tibet supports this campaign, which aims to encourage global action around the Beijing Declaration’s call for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Many will remember the vivid images from Beijing 20 years ago of nine Tibetan exile women standing silently, gagged with silk scarves to symbolize China’s silencing of Tibetan women’s voices.[1] This initiative – by the first Tibetan exiles to protest Chinese rule over Tibet on Chinese soil – highlighted the courage and spirit of Tibetan women, who have long been on the frontline of resistance, solidarity in their community, and preservation of Tibetan identity and culture.”

On this important anniversary, ICT calls for the release of prominent female political prisoner Yeshe Choedron (Chinese transliteration: Yixi Quzhen), who is serving a 15-year sentence on false charges of ‘espionage’. Yeshe Choedron, was arrested in March 2008 and accused of providing “intelligence and information harmful to the security and interests of the state” to “the Dalai clique’s security department.”[2] Tibetan sources who know Yeshe Choedron, and whose children have not been able to see her since her sentencing, say the charges are unfounded and based on the Chinese Party state’s attempt to impose blame on the Dalai Lama and the exile authorities for ‘inciting’ the protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau for several months from March, 2008 onwards.

Well-known female political prisoners in the PRC have included: the Tibetan leader of the ‘singing nuns’ of Drapchi Prison Ngawang Sangdrol, released on medical parole in 2002 after spending 10 years in prison; award-winning journalist Gao Yu, released in 1999 after completing the majority of a six-year sentence; and Uyghur businesswoman and activist Rebiya Kadeer, released on medical parole in 2005 after five years’ imprisonment. Ngawang Sangdrol and Rebiya Kadeer are living in exile in the United States.

As the World Conference on Women begins, ICT will be remembering Tibetan women who have set fire to themselves and died, including Tashi Kyi, a mother of four in her mid-fifties who self-immolated on August 27. Tashi Kyi, described as a “generous Buddhist” who was “devoted to her family”, was the 26th woman to set herself alight in a wave of self-immolations in protest at Chinese policy in Tibet since 2009.[3]

Matteo Mecacci said: “Xi Jinping’s presence at this high-profile conference should not go unchallenged – every opportunity should be sought to call for an end to the silencing and disempowerment of women and the crackdown on civil society in Tibet and across the PRC.”

[1] The then First Lady Hillary Clinton, now Presidential candidate, made references in her speech at the Forum 20 years ago to other Tibetan women denied visas and intimidated by Chinese authorities. See Tibetan Feminist Collective blog,

[2] ICT report, December 22, 2008,

[3] Details at: