Freedom at last after 18 years- China releases Ngawang Phulchung

27 October 2007

One of the longest serving Tibetan political prisoners, Ngawang Phulchung, who was one of the key leaders of the famous peaceful pro-independence demonstration of 27 September 1987, in Lhasa, was released from Chushul Prison (Ch: Qushui Prison) around 21 October 2007.

According to confirmed information received by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), Ngawang Phulchung, a 48 year-old prominent member of the Drepung “Group of Ten” was released after completion of his eighteen years and six months of prison sentence in various Chinese administered detention centres and prisons in Tibet. Ngawang was released by the Chinese authorities around 21 October 2007 from Chushul Prison. He was incarcerated for 18 years and six months of his 19-year sentence before receiving a six-month sentence reduction on 22 September 2005. The current physical condition of NgawangPhulchung is said to be frail and have deteriorated over the years due to torture and inhuman treatments he suffered in the prison. Reports indicate that he is currently at his home with his family in Toelung Dechen County.

“Ngawang Phulchung is an exceptional case in the Tibetan struggle for human rights and justice. His dauntless efforts in voicing his opinion against the Chinese government’s oppressive regime resulted in his repeated prison term extensions apart from the solitary confinements, beatings and torture that he sustained,” said Jamphel Monlam, the Assistant Director of the Centre and one of the members of the “Group of Ten”. He further elaborates by saying, “This release is yet another token gesture by the Chinese government before any major international events. The fact remains that he has spent the best part of his life in prison with physical and emotional scars that will last for the rest of his life,” said Jamphel Monlam.

Brief Biography:

Ngawang Phulchung (lay name Anu) was born at Yamda Village in Toelung Dechen County, Lhasa Municipality. He joined Drepung Monastery in 1984. Ngawang was first detained in 1987 in connection with his participation on a peaceful demonstration. He joined Drepung Monastery at an early age and reached an advanced level study in Buddhist philosophy. He was just a short step from attaining the degree of Geshe (Doctorate of Philosophy in Buddhism), but felt compelled to concentrate his energies on the Tibetan struggle for political and religious freedom.

On 27 September 1987, Ngawang Phulchung and 20 other monks of Drepung Monastery staged a peaceful demonstration in central Lhasa demanding respect for human rights, including religious freedom and the right to self-determination for Tibetans. This was a turning point in the Tibetan struggle and sparked off a series of public protests. Prior to this day, few Tibetans had dared to express their concerns for fear of ruthless Chinese reprisals. The Chinese violently suppressed the demonstrators who were beaten and detained.

Ngawang was held without charge for four months in Gutsa Detention Centre and was finally released on 22 January 1988 following intense international media attention and pressure and the personal intervention of the late Xth Panchen Lama. After his release, he rejoined the monastery 1988. Soon after his release, Ngawang said he had participated in the 1987 demonstration in support of the Dalai Lama and in order to protest against the Chinese government condemnation of the Dalai Lama’s Five Point Peace Plan which they claimed was an attempt to split the motherland. When he was questioned by the Chinese authorities whether he and the others were afraid to demonstrate, his reply was “No, we were not frightened … we were already prepared to give up our lives for the six million Tibetans. Anyway, sacrificing your life is not against Buddhism”.

Ngawang was also one of the ten members from the Drepung Monastery who clandestinely produced political literature and distributed it extensively at the end of 1988 after their release on 22 January 1988. He was unanimously elected as the leader of the “Group of Ten”.

On 22 April 1989, Ngawang Phulchung and three other monks were arrested from Drepung Monastery for forming a “counter-revolutionary group” which had clandestinely produced political leaflets. All four were detained at the Sangyip Prison or popularly known as “TAR” Public Security Bureau (PSB) Detention Centre.

Amongst the “reactionary literature” published by the group was a complete Tibetan translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The group had also reported on political unrest in Tibet, criticized human rights violations by the Chinese authorities, listed the names of persons arrested or killed by the Chinese police and military, and alerted Tibetans to the international support for their cause. A further document published by the group was entitled “The Meaning of the Precious Democratic Constitution of Tibet”.

It described a parliamentary system for an independent Tibet, relying on the traditional principles of Buddhist dialectics to analyze the concept of democracy and called upon Tibetans to fight “with inner strength”. The group was labeled as “the scum of religious circles” and, in order to make an example of those involved, the Chinese authorities staged a show trial.

Other remaining members of the “Group of Ten” were subsequently arrested on 18 July 1989 and detained at “TAR” PSB Detention Centre. All the members had undergone a severe torture and ill-treatment from the prison officials with Ngawang Phulchung having been particularly targeted for being the ring leader of the group.

On 30 November 1989, when the group was sentenced before a forced public gathering of 1500 Tibetans, Ngawang was denounced as the leader of the group and sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment and five yearsïž’ deprivation of political rights. At his sentencing, Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court accused him with “organising and joining a counter-revolutionary clique and spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda and inflammatory disinformation”, “seriously undermining national security” and “collecting intelligence and passing it on to the enemy”. The people gathered were told that the monks had “venomously slandered our socialist system characterized by the people’s democratic dictatorship”.

The Chinese government broadcast the sentencing on TV, with following warning:

The crimes committed by Ngawang Phulchung and other criminals demonstrate that the so-called human rights, freedoms and democracy played up by separatists both at home and abroad are nothing but a pack of deceitful lies … Let the sentence of Ngawang Phulchung serve as a stern warning for separatists both at home and abroad that those who split the motherland will come to no good end.

On 30 March 1991, an American delegation visited Drapchi prison and a group of prisoners handed the diplomats a petition allegedly protesting against the conditions of detention. The petition was confiscated, and after the visit, prisoners, including Ngawang were reportedly severely beaten and placed in the solitary confinement. Undeterred, Ngawang and other prisoners have continued to protest against the ill-treatment of prisoners, with the inevitable result that they have been beaten or placed in dark isolation cells. Ngawang Phulchung was transferred to Drapchi Prison along with the rest of the members of his group on 15 January 1990.

Ngawang was later known to have been transferred to newly operational Chushul Prison, where he remained incarcerated until his release this month.

All the members of the “Group of Ten” were now known to have been released after serving various prison terms ranging between five years to eighteen years and deprivation of political rights for a number of years. Over the years Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Commission and many concerned individuals have strived hard to secure an early release of Ngawang Phulchung.

While TCHRD is happy that Ngawang Phulchung has been released, it maintains that he and all the Tibetan political prisoners do not deserve to be in prison at all in the first place. According to TCHRD documentation, there are 140 known Tibetan political prisoners currently languishing in a network of Chinese administered prisons in Tibet. Out of the 140 known political prisoners, 51 are serving prison term of more than 10 years and 97 prisoners out of the total are monks. TCHRD remains skeptical and would like to warn the international community not to be misled by such well-calculated gestures of the Chinese government for its own benefits, particularly, in light of upcoming Beijing Olympics next year.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a state party to the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment since 1988. Although PRC outlawed certain forms of torture in the revised Chinese Criminal Procedure Law that came into effect in 1997, systematic torture is still endemic in the Chinese administered prisons in Tibet. In view of the current situation in Tibet, although complete eradication of torture remains a distant dream.

TCHRD urges the government of the PRC to implement the recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to eradicate torture and “to ensure torture survivors’ right to full with special attention to medical and psychological needs”.

TCHRD calls upon the government of the People’s Republic of China to release all the prisoners of conscience who are still languishing in various prisons and detention centres in Tibet for peaceful exercise of fundamental human rights enshrined in the constitution and various International human rights treaties and covenants.

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