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Profile: Body broke, spirit strong

Gyaltsen Choezom
Gyaltsen Choezom

Nuns in the Chinese prisons in Tibet are often targeted for fatal punishment and torture. Many of them are permanently scarred and disfigured. Gyaltsen Choezom is one such woman. A Garu nun of 29 years, Gyaltsen is serving nine years in Drapchi prison for exercising her right of freedom of expression. Although she is due to be released in two years time she will carry the painful reminder of her prison life.

Gyaltsen Choezom is a 29-year-old nun from Garu Nunnery, near Lhasa. She is originally from Taktse County. Gyaltsen’s parents are farmers and she has two older brothers and one younger brother.

On 22 August 1990, Gyaltsen participated in the demonstration that took place in Norbulinka (Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama) at the time of the Great Opera Festival. It was led by a group of nuns from Michungiri and Garu nunnery. Beginning some time around noon, the group of nuns started shouting “Free Tibet” and “Chinese leave Tibet”.

The nuns were immediately arrested by some members of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) and Gyaltsen was taken to Gutsa Detention Centre in Lhasa where she underwent a series of interrogations accompanied by beatings and torture. After spending four months in Gutsa, Gyaltsen was transferred to Drapchi prison in Lhasa. She, along with the other twelve nuns, was charged with ‘counter-revolutionary’ activities and was sentenced to four years in prison.

On 10 March 1992,the first day of the Tibetan New Year and also coinciding with Tibetan National Uprising Day (commemorating 10 March, 1959), the nuns in Drapchi wore new clothes to celebrate the occasion. When they were ordered to remove them by the prison officials, the nuns refused to comply.

Gyaltsen was one of the 23 nuns who were then beaten continuously for three days by 50 to 60 members of the People’s Armed Police (PAP). She received severe beatings from five or six PAP members who also kicked her and used electric batons and belts. During the course of one beating Gyaltsen’s hip was stamped on and crushed, leaving one side of her leg permanently damaged. Today she drags her leg when she walks.

Some report that the prison officials held a particular malice for Gyaltsen and that she was frequently subjected to unnecessary punishments. On one occasion she was accused of breaking a door and was brutally beaten.

In 1993, whilst in prison, Gyaltsen and 13 other nuns were discovered to have recorded Tibetan songs and messages of peace to their family and friends on a smuggled tape recorder. Some of the songs were also devoted to the Dalai Lama calling for his return to his homeland.

Gyaltsen’s sentence was increased by a further five years, making her total prison term nine years. Gyaltsen’s former prison inmates are today gravely concerned about her well being as she has already sustained a severe leg injury.

Express your concern and support by writing an appeal letter addressed to the Chinese premier, Mr Li Peng, requesting the immediate and unconditional release of Gyaltsen Choezom and send it to the Chinese Embassy in your country or to Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy for forwarding.

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