My name is Ngawang Sangdrol and I was a nun in Garu Nunnery in Tibet. I am a former Tibetan political prisoner who spent over 11 years in prison for my religious belief and for praying for the long life of my spiritual and temporal leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and calling for freedom in Tibet. During my stay in prison and even during my interrogation I was subjected to immense torture, which left me weak and poor in health. The Chinese authorities finally released me in October 2002. On March 28, 2003 I arrived in the United States for medical treatment.
I am told that there is a reference to my case in this year’s State Department report on the human rights situation in Tibet. I believe it very essential that the United States continue to highlight the human rights situation in Tibet. This has concrete effect on the well-being of prisoners in Tibet. From my own experience I can say that the Chinese attitude towards me changed when international attention was drawn towards my situation. However, it was only after my release from prison and particularly after arriving in the United States in the land of freedom that I learned about the work that the United States Congress as well as the Administration have done on my behalf as well as on the Tibetan people in general. I, therefore, would like to express my gratitude to you and through you, to the United States government for your concern for the welfare of the Tibetan people.
In order to highlight the situation in Tibet, I would like to expand on my own experience. On August 21, 1990, at the age of 13, I participated in a peaceful demonstration at a cultural festival in front of the Norbu Lingka, the summer palace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We prayed for the long life for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and called for freedom in Tibet. I was detained for nine months in Gutsa detention center without charges. Upon my release I was forbidden from going back to my nunnery.
On June 17, 1992, I was again arrested for participating in another pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa, along with other Garu nuns, and some monks form Gaden monastery. I was sentenced to three years imprisonment ‘for incitement to subversive and separatist activities’ and was kept in Drapchi Prison.
I received a six-year sentence extension in October 1993, for participating in recording a tape of songs in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet. This tape was smuggled out of Drapchi, copied and distributed in Tibet as well as abroad.
On 30 November 1995, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, a Committee of the United Nations, which assesses reports of illegal imprisonment, ruled that my continued detention was arbitrary, because I had been punished for exercising my right to freedom of opinion. The Group asked China to remedy the situation and abide by the provisions enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, my sentence was extended.
In 1996, my prison term was extended for another eight years after I was accused of demonstrating inside the prison. In October 1998 my sentence was extended by another six years after some of us nuns were accused of being involved in a protest demonstration in the prison in May 1998. This brought my total sentence to 21 years, thereby making it the longest sentence for a female Tibetan political prisoner.
Right from the day I was detained in front of the Norbu Lingka the Chinese officials used different torture instruments on me to break my spirit. I was subjected to both physical and mental torture to make me denounce my leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to undermine the aspirations of my people. Some of the torture items used on me included different types of electric baton and prods, pipes, canes of different size and the use of the “airplane” hanging system. My current health is poor as result of the treatment received in Drapchi Prison. I suffer from periodic headaches and perpetual stomach problems. However, my spirit is far from broken.
Since my imprisonment in 1992, I have seen that all Tibetan political prisoners are tortured. In 1996 when Phuntsok Pema and I were placed in a small dingy cell, we learnt that prisoners in Unit Five, including Ngawang Phulchung, were tortured solely because they appealed to higher officials after the death of one prisoner after torture.
Although the Chinese claim that Tibetans have religious freedom, there is virtually no true religious freedom in Tibet. You are liable to be persecuted for practicing religion and for having faith in your spiritual teacher. The situation is worse in the prison. There have been cases of people who have been persecuted solely for reciting prayers. At one time, while in Drapchi prison, five nuns of Shugseb Nunnery — Palden Choedak, Jigme Yangchen, Woeser Choekyi, Yangzom, and Chime Dekyi — were reciting the Mani prayer on home-made prayer beads made of flour dough. Upon seeing this prison officials immediately beat the nuns, made them run in the courtyard, threw stones at them to make them run faster and to complete the humiliation they made the nuns to eat the prayer beads.
As for political freedom, one faces persecution for voicing any political opinion other than the official line. People have been tortured merely for exercising their freedom of expression.
The Tibetans today live under an authoritarian system with no freedom whatsoever.
Ever since I set foot on the soil of the United States the outpouring of love and support has overwhelmed me from my fellow Tibetans in the free world as well as from friends of Tibet.
It is taking me time to adjust to this new atmosphere of freedom. This is because I have been brought up under an authoritarian system since my childhood and I lived without total freedom for over 11 years, while in prison. I am moved by the interest that the international community is showing in my case. I don’t consider myself as anyone special. I did what any individual who considers himself or herself a Tsampa-eating Tibetan would do when his or her community is deprived of its dignity and respect. No Tibetan can stand the denunciation of our peerless leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the denial of our fundamental rights. However, the political situation in Tibet and the suppressive rule there are not permitting the Tibetan people to come out with their true feelings.
My foremost desire is to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the earliest opportunity. I am filled with joy to learn that His Holiness is in good health. I was pleased to receive messages of good wishes from the officials of our Tibetan Government-in-Exile as well as Tibetan organizations and individuals.
I am deeply touched to learn that several individuals, organizations, and governments, particularly the United States, France and Switzerland, have worked towards my release. It is very clear to me that I have been released and allowed to come out to the free world for medical treatment and to enjoy my freedom because of international concern. Even as I enjoy this freedom I am concerned about the many more Tibetan political prisoners languishing in Chinese jails. I appeal to the international community to help give them freedom.
I pray that His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s efforts towards the resolution of the Tibetan problem will have early results. I will abide by any advice His Holiness may have so that I can best contribute towards the fulfillment of his wishes for a solution to the just cause of Tibet. The Tibetan people in Tibet are eagerly waiting for the day when they can see the return of their beloved leader to their homeland, with dignity, freedom and respect.
I applaud the United States for supporting His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Tibetan issue. I would like to urge you to continue to do so. It is only His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has the trust and loyalty of the Tibetan people and he is our only hope for freedom in Tibet.
I thank you for this opportunity of submitting this testimony to the United States Congress.