Phuntsok Nyidron

Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron is a Tibetan Buddhist nun who has exhibited outstanding bravery in her fight to maintain the basic human right of free speech. She has suffered incarceration in Drapchi prison since 1989, because she peacefully demonstrated to end the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Despite great personal risk, she continued the struggle from her cell by secretly recording freedom songs, which were later released beyond the prison walls. As punishment, Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron's cumulative sentence was increased to seventeen years, the longest of any female political prisoner in Tibet.

Because Tibetan nationalism and Buddhism are closely intertwined, the Chinese authorities have gained control in Tibet by persecuting practicing monks and nuns, and by destroying religious buildings. Before the invasion, every village and town in Tibet housed monasteries, temples and hermitages. By 1976, more than 6,000 of these sacred places had been desecrated, leaving only eight standing.

Tibetan nuns and monks have also suffered greatly, as Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron's situation demonstrates. She was one of the first women to join the nunnery of Michungri in 1986, and consequently became the senior nun, despite her young age. When the Chinese Work Unit Team came to the nunnery to give political education to the nuns, she was the first to advocate greater freedom of speech and movement, and to confront the Chinese for interfering with the nuns' religious activities.

In 1989, three days after the Tibetans heard the news that the Dalai Lama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she led a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa to protest the Chinese occupation of her country. Five other nuns were arrested and sentenced to three years of administrative detention. But, Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron was accused of being the "ringleader" and given a sentence of nine years. According to the testimony received from a released Tibetan nun, she was beaten with iron rods and tortured with electric batons.

Four years later, Ven. Phuntsok Nyidron and seventeen other nuns recorded several Tibetan independence songs on a tape recorder which was smuggled into the prison. For this "crime," her original prison sentence of nine years was nearly doubled to seventeen years. She is a symbol of freedom of expression, an extraordinary woman who continues to nonviolently advance the cause of human rights at the cost of her own personal freedom and safety.

One of her supporter's said: "It is a rare and remarkable human being who would dare to raise her voice in a song of freedom once more after already having suffered imprisonment and torture...[she] has declared that victims of oppressive governments will not submit in silence."


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