On February 2, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H. Res. 157, which calls on the Chinese government to release Tibetans held as prisoners of conscience for their involvement in efforts to end the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The resolution was introduced in March 2003 by Representative Tom Udall (D-NM) and cosponsored by 66 additional Members of Congress, including Representatives Kaptur (D-OH), Rohrabacher (R-CA), Smith (R-NJ), and Wolf (R-VA). The legislation passed with 391 votes in favor and none in opposition.
Representative Udall, the bill’s sponsor, said of the wide support for H. Res. 157 received in Congress, “If the Chinese government thinks the U.S. is eventually going to give up on these prisoners, they are wrong. We keep a close watch on the status of Tibetans and the human rights violations there, and will continue to do so. The passage of this resolution illustrates just that.”
In a statement on the Capitol floor during consideration of H. Res. 157, Representative Edward Royce (R-CA) noted that “The Department of State and other international organizations continue to report ongoing human rights violations in Tibet.”
Mr. Royce added that H. Res. 157 is part of a “long tradition” of Congressional support for Tibet.
The resolution highlights the case of Tibetan nun, Phuntsok Nyidron, who was arrested with five others from the Michungri Nunnery in Lhasa after chanting slogans and marching in a peaceful demonstration to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. She is the longest-serving female Tibetan political prisoner.
While in Chinese custody Phuntsok and the others were kicked, beaten and given electric shocks on their hands, shoulders, breasts, tongues and faces. In 1993, the Chinese extended her prison sentence to 17 years for “spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda” by recording and smuggling taped songs out of the prison.
Well-known former Tibetan political prisoner Ngawang Sangdrol, who was paroled to the United States in 2003, was incarcerated for 10 years in Lhasa’s Drapchi prison and recorded the songs with Phuntsok Nyidron. On hearing about the passage of H. Res. 157, Sangdrol said, “Phuntsok Nyidron is a quiet leader – a deeply inspired Tibetan woman with tremendous courage and dedication. But she has already served 14 years and is not in good health. In the name of justice, she and all other political prisoners should be released immediately.”
Phuntsok Nyidron was awarded the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1995.
As the House passed H. Res. 157 the Bush Administration is considering what action it will take at the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva, scheduled from March 15 through April 23, 2004. It was during the lead up to the 2003 UNHRC meeting that the Chinese released Ngawang Sangdrol, which influenced the U.S. decision last year not to introduce a China resolution in Geneva.
“Based on what the Bush administration has called ‘backsliding’ on human rights issues by China – including specific Tibet-related incidents – a strong case can be made that the United States should introduce a China resolution this year,” said Kelley Currie, Director of Government Relations for the International Campaign for Tibet.
“This is what the International Campaign for Tibet is pushing for,” Currie continued.
In a statement in support of H. Res. 157 on the Capitol floor Representative Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS) said, “Someday Tibetans will regain their freedom and those who languished in Tibetan prisons will be celebrated as heroes.”
He added: “The Tibetan people know the value of freedom because they are not free.”