Phuntsok Nyidron, one of Tibet’s longest held political prisoners, addresses the 2nd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Phuntsok Nyidron: Good morning everybody.
My name is Phuntsok Nyidron. I was born in Phenpo, a small village near Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to an ordinary peasant family in 1970. I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school as I belonged to a family blacklisted by the Chinese authority during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. With the consent of my parents, I enrolled in the Michungri nunnery at the age of 17.
I’m happy and honored to be here today before this global gathering to testify about the ordeal of 15 years of imprisonment I endured under the Chinese communist regime in occupied Tibet. In fact, my formal sentence was 17 years. Ladies and gentlemen, let me express my sincere appreciation to the organizers for giving me this opportunity and extend my solidarity with all political prisoners around the globe. Tibet is still under Chinese communist occupation, since 1959.
You may all be wondering how I left Tibet when the Chinese government imposes restrictions on dissidents from traveling abroad. Due to support from international communities and governments, on [the] 15th of March, 2006, the Chinese government allowed me to leave for the United States on medical grounds. I am grateful to the government of the United States and international communities. I received initial medical treatment in the U.S. for several months and then moved to Switzerland, where I was granted political asylum.
Ladies and gentlemen, during the Tibetan New Year in 1989, I, together with eight fellow nuns in Lhasa Pargor shouted and distributed leaflets saying “long live the Dalai Lama, “free Tibet,” and “Chinese get out of Tibet.” Some elderly Tibetan women praying in Pargor advised us to leave the place. We just escaped from arrest from the Chinese police.
I went again with my fellow nuns to Lhasa, although the capital was under martial law, to buy construction materials for our nunnery, which was under renovation. In Lhasa, we noticed that Tibetan people were burning incense to express their jubilation on the eve of the Nobel Peace Prize award being conferred to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. We were extremely delighted to hear this news. On our return to the nunnery, we were met halfway by our fellow nuns. After sharing this information, they were all overjoyed and unanimously decided to demonstrate their joy as exhibited by the Tibetan people in Lhasa.
On the next day, I, together with five nuns, left for Lhasa to demonstrate. Since the Chinese police will notice if people entere Pargor in a group, we formed three groups and decided to meet at a Chinese photo shop inside Pargor. We learned that Chinese police in civil dress had been following us.
In order to avoid arrest before protesting, without waiting for one group, four of us started shouting “long live the Dalai Lama” and “free Tibet.” Within a few minutes, the People’s Armed Police and the local security police came and arrested us. Another two nuns arrived after and also shouted the same slogans. They were also arrested by the People’s Armed Police and the local security police. Coincidentally we all met in the Gutsa prison.
Two prison guards took us individually for interrogation. They asked “who sent you?” and hand over the instigators belonging to, I quote, “Dalai click.” I replied that I acted myself and no one instigated me. I had never met the Dalai Lama in my life. The guard again posed the question that my teacher might be behind it. I said that [a] teacher will not misguide his disciples. Then the guard asked who the ringleader was. I took responsibility and thus was given a sentence of nine years imprisonment.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to share with you a typical day of beatings and torture in prison: My right arm was forced over my right shoulder and handcuffed to my left arm behind my back. A guard then stood on his table and pulled me up several times by holding the handcuffs. After being untied, I had no sense of feeling in my hands. At present, I still can’t hold heavy objects. Besides, my fingers were popped by a shoe-shaving machine needle, electric batteries were put in my mouth, and burning cigarettes stamped out on my face. Worse, they twisted live electric wires on my fingers, which made my whole body shake like an epileptic, and then I fell unconscious. Guards then threw cold water on my face to awaken me. When I regained consciousness, I felt nothing but was foaming in my mouth. On that day, not a drop of water or food was given.
Ladies and gentlemen, in 1992, we shouted the whole night to demand the release of three prison inmates who were put into solitary confinement. When the other prison inmates saw each prisoner being beaten by four People’s Armed Police, they screamed through the windows. The People’s Armed Police then stopped beating us. A nun’s kidney was damaged. Another one had her leg broken.
In 1993, along with 13 other political prisoners, we secretly recorded songs in the prison that were in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the situation of political prisoners. For this recording, my sentence was extended by another eight years, making my total sentence [into] 17 years. Through these songs, we also wanted to communicate to our families that our spirits had not been broken.
In prison, medical treatment was routinely denied to all political prisoners. For instance, one of my fellow prisoners died in ‘95 when the Chinese authorities failed to provide immediate medical care.
The situation became physically and mentally intolerable for us because of the beatings and military drills that the People’s Armed Police made us perform. We were in complete desperation and then went on [a] hunger strike to end this practice. After four and a half days, we stopped the hunger strike, as the People’s Armed Police acceded to our demand. They made false promises, and they restarted beatings after several days. I had a problem with my hands because of the torture.
In May 1998, because of [a] peaceful demonstration, we were given a small wooden stool. We were kept in Drapchi Prison, where 12 prisoners live in one single room eating, sleeping, and sharing one small toilet. In prison, everyone is given one small stool, where one has to sit during the daytime, and is not permitted to use the sleeping pad for rest. My bottom got wounded because of sitting on this stool. I still bear the scars.
Every day we were forced to weave woolen sweaters — either one small roll of thin wool thread or one big roll of wool thread — sitting on this small wooden stool. Family visits were canceled for anyone who failed to weave their quota. Chinese authority considers political prisoners as serious criminals. Chinese authority is not giving rights to political prisoners as guaranteed in law. For example, general prisoners have three family members, whereas a political prisoner can meet one family member in a month.
When I came out of Tibet, I heard that [the] Chinese authorities claimed to have provided many rights to prisoners. The prison law of china promulgated in 1994, I quote, stipulates specifically that “prisoners have the right of immunity from corporal punishment and abuses, the right of appeal, the right of communication, right of meeting visiting family members and relatives, right to education, and right to receive medical treatment. They enjoy equal rights with other citizens upon their release after completing their sentence.”
In February 2004, I was suddenly released from prison but remained under constant surveillance with two policemen posted at my home. While at home, Chinese authorities took me to meet foreign delegations, including the chairperson of the United Nation Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. However, at the time of these meetings, I had no clear knowledge of who these people were or about their work. I only understood the significance of these visits to me only after coming to the United States.
With regard to my health condition, I regularly take painkiller medicine for headaches, kidneys, knees, and hands because of severe torture. Now it looks like I’m healthy from [the] outside, [but] I’m not in good health. Even doctors cannot diagnose all my health problems.
After all these years in prison, I owe my freedom firstly to the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and also to those governments, parliaments, NGOs, and UN human rights bodies that have shown concern for the Tibetan political prisoners by putting pressure on the Chinese government. I remain grateful to all of them.
Given the appalling human rights situation inside Tibet, I honestly urge every one of you to continue your support for the just cause of the Tibetan people, and I thank you very much for your attention.