The Story of Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron


Update 15/3/2006: Phuntsok Nyidron arrives safely in the USA

Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron was born in 1968 in Gachoe district in Phenpo, Third Village, West of Tibet’s Capital Lhasa. She attended a village school but she did not continue her studies due to inadequate education facilities in her village.

In 1986 she joined the Mechungri nunnery, in central Tibet, which was under the administration of the Lhasa People’s government, and it was here that Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron was able to study Buddhist philosophy. However, with the increasing interference by Chinese authorities in the religious affairs of the nunnery, Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron became a political spokesperson and activist for the rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people.

The Chinese Work-Unit Teams came frequently to the nunnery, to give political education to the nuns. (This is a common practice in Tibet and often nuns and monks are subjected to long political lectures heralding Marxist ideologies and denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama). Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron was the first to show indifference to these “re-education” sessions and then to confront the Work Unit-Team for interfering in their religious activities.

She advocated freedom of speech, greater freedom of movement and an end to Chinese rule. She was very vocal in criticizing the Chinese policy in Tibet. She is and always has been an intrepid human rights fighter.

The Arrest:

In October 14, 1989, Phuntsok Nyidron led a peaceful demonstration in the Barkhor area in the old town of Lhasa, calling for an end to the Chinese occupation in Tibet. The demonstration took place three days after Tibetans inside Tibet heard the news that the Dalai Lama had been awarded the Noble Peace Prize. As a consequence of the demonstration 14 nuns were arrested, amongst them was Phuntsok Nyidron. In an article published in the Tibet daily (Chinese -Tibetan language newspaper), on October 18, 1989 Phuntsok Nyidron was described as “the ringleader” of the 14 nuns. Apparently she was suspected as the ringleader because in the nunnery she was the storekeeper who had more responsibility than the other nuns were, over the administration of the nunnery. Five of the nuns involved in the demonstration were sentenced to three years administrative detention, but Phuntsok Nyidron was taken to court for trial forced to confess and then give a sentence of nine years.

According to her testimony received by the Human Rights Desk, she was kicked and beaten during the arrest and later given electric shocks on the hands, shoulders, breasts, tongue and face. During interrogation she was suspended for at least fifteen minutes from the ceiling by her hands, which were handcuffed behind her and she was then beaten with iron rod whilst in this position. The prison authorities tried to force her to write a confession but she refused to comply.

The Re-sentence:

On October 8, 1993, she sang a song in prison with 13 other nuns, dedicated to the independence of Tibet and applauding His Holiness the Dalai Lama in front of the Chinese prison police. These songs were successfully recorded on a borrowed tape recorder, smuggled out of prison and circulated among the general Tibetan population. On the tape each of the nuns announces their names and then dedicated a song or poem to their friends or supporters. One nun sings: “All of you outside who have done all that you can for us” It was because of this song that her sentence was extended to eight more years in Drapchi prison. She is now the longest serving, known, woman political prisoner in Tibet.

However, according to Chinese authorities these songs were “counter-revolutionary” and Phuntsok Nyidron’s sentence was increased by eight years. 35 year old Phuntsok Nyidron is now serving a total sentence of 17 years and she is the longest know serving female political prisoner of conscience in Tibet.

A nun who was imprisoned in Drapchi for five years with Phuntsok Nyidron (and is now living in exile in India) claims that when she was released in 1994, Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron was at that time very weak and suffering from very poor health. She has constant problems with her kidneys and epigastria pain, and had become severely hunched. She also reported a great deal of pain.

In the words of the imprisoned nuns:

I sing a song of torment
From Drapchi Prison
Of Tibet … I sing in my song
Our land of the Dharma has now become a prison camp
Today, though I’ve been put in prison
My spirit will never be discouraged
Oh How Sad!
The barbarians have beaten us horribly
We have no independence
We are oppressed by the barbarians,
Our minds … Will come from Drapchi Prison
Through thee blessings of the Dalai Lama
We are in a state of happiness and peace.

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