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Former Tibetan prisoner shares her experience of torture and human rights abuse in Tibet

By Danny Cordova

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(Photo courtesy of Chime Tsetan)

(Photo courtesy of Chime Tsetan)

Former political prisoner Ngawang Sangdrol spoke about her resistance to the Chinese government in prison and highlighted human rights abuse in Tibet on Saturday morning, Dec. 10 in the Cape Cod Lounge.

In the event, which was hosted by the University of Massachusetts chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, Sangdrol shared her story of how she was detained multiple times by the Chinese government for protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet. She also spoke on the conditions within prison and the human rights abuses that still occur in Tibet.

Dec. 10 was also Human Rights Day and marked the 27th anniversary of the 14th Dalai Lama Nobel Peace Prize.

While growing up in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, where her father, uncle and brother spent time in prison for standing for Tibetan autonomy, Sangdrol was influenced by the work of her family.

In 1990, 13-year-old Sangdrol and other nuns took part in a peaceful protest, stating that Tibet is independent and “Long live the Dalai Lama.” Within minutes, armed police rushed toward Sangdrol and arrested her. She was incarcerated in the Gutsa Detention Center for nine months.

“This is where the beatings started,” said Sangdrol.

Sangdrol recalled receiving daily physical punishments from guards. The tools used by guards included sticks with iron rods and implementing torture to drive Sangdrol to renounce her devotion to the Dalai Lama.

“They also tied our hand together to the back and then pulled them up, attached to the ceiling,” said Sangdrol. “This caused so much pain. It felt like the arms were coming off.”

One memory that stood out to Sangdrol during her prison experience was when an officer approached her with something that resembled a telephone. The officer asked Sangdrol if she wanted to make a call back home.

“Do you want to call home,” the officer asked to Sangdrol.

“There is no phone in my home,” Sangdrol responded.

“I can make it happen,” the officer responded.

The telephone that the officer was holding, Sangdrol recalled, was an electric probe. The officer proceeded to jam the electric probe into her mouth and turned it on.

“I felt unbearable pain,” Sangdrol said. “I was 13 years old then.”

Sangdrol was released after serving her nine-month sentence. However, she was arrested again in 1992 after taking part in another protest. She was sentenced for three years for counter-revolutionary propaganda charges and was imprisoned in the Drapchi Prison.

Despite receiving daily beatings from prison guards, Sangdrol continued to practice her  religion and connection to her culture in secret.

Sangdrol stated that during her time in prison, there were cases of prisoners dying from lack of medical attention, forced labor and through various torture methods used by the guards.

The original sentence was extended to 23 years due to Sangdrol’s resistance during her imprisonment.

Following the news of Sangdrol’s arrest, international organizations began to pressure the Chinese government to release her. She was released in 2002.

“With help and support of the U.S. particularly, international governments and individual supporters, I was only in prison for 11 years and was released,” Sangdrol said.

While she gained freedom and was forced to leave Tibet, the human rights condition in Tibet, Sangdrol said, has not improved.

“There are still many more political prisoners inside Tibet that are suffering just like I did,” Sangdrol said.

After hearing about Tibetan protesters being arrested by the Chinese government for resisting the government’s occupational forces, Sangdrol is reminded of her own experience.

Sangdrol called for the members of the audience to pressure the Chinese government to shorten terms and release political prisoners.

Before the talk began, a group consisting of around 15 students stood outside of the Cape Cod Lounge protesting the event in support of the Chinese government. They held signs stating “Multicultural is respect” and wore pins of the Chinese national flag.

“The Chinese government actually helped and improved [Tibetan] lives,” said Jucong He, a junior computer science major. “If anyone goes to Tibet, they can see the developments. We are actually helping them.”

The group of protesters passed out flyers highlighting multiculturalism in China and modern developments in Tibet, such as developing schools, hospitals, infrastructure and transportation.

“We do not harvest their culture, we don’t do anything about the culture,” said He. “We are actually protecting the culture.”

“I’m glad that the Chinese students came in and were willing to start a dialogue,” said Kalsang Nangpa, senior public health major and president of UMass SFT. “I hope that we can continue that dialogue.”

“It’s hard to hear about a 13-year-old getting prodded with an electrical device in the mouth and not be pretty affected by that,” said Carrie Katan, sophomore history major.

Danny Cordova can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DannyJCordova.

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