Phuntsok Nyidon is 28 year old nun from Michungri Nunnery. She was sentenced to nine years and later eight years imprisonment, first for a peaceful demonstration and then for singing independence songs. Her dedication to the cause of human rights in Tibet earned the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1995.
Phuntsok Nyidon (father: Tashi Wangpo, mother: Palkyi) was born in 1968 in Phenpo district, 135km from Lhasa. She attended a village school but was unable to continue her studies due to inadequate education facilities in her village. Consequently, she left school and in 1986 joined Michungri Nunnery in Toelung Dechen district.
In the nunnery, in addition to learning Buddhist philosophy,Phuntsok began to speak out for the Tibetan people. She advocated freedom of speech, greater freedom of movement and an endto Chinese rule. On 14 October 1989, Phuntsok led a demonstration in the Barkhor area in the old town of Lhasa. The demonstration took place three days after Tibetans inside Tibet heard word that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and was both a celebration of this news and a call for an end to Chinese occupation in Tibet. The peaceful demonstration by a small group of nuns lasted just a few minutes.
Phuntsok was described in the official newspaper Tibet Daily (Ch: Xizang Ribao) on 18 October 1989 as “the ringleader” of “counterrevolutionary propaganda” aimed at “splitting the great motherland.”
Other nuns involved in the demonstration were sentenced to three years administrative detention while Phuntsok was sent for a court trial and sentenced to nine years imprisonment.
There were several reasons suggested to explain why she given the longest sentence. Firstly, she was one of the first nuns to join the Michungri nunnery when it was under renovation and started to function after restorations were completed. She therefore automatically became the senior nun despite her young age. Secondly, the Work Unit Team visited Michungri on several occasions to give the nuns political education, but Phuntsok was the first to confront the Work Unit Team for interfering in their religious activities. Thirdly, Phuntsok was the storekeeper in the Michungri nunnery and given more responsibility over the administration of the nunnery.
According to testimony received in January 1994 by Tenzin Choekyi, one of the nuns who escaped to India after release, Phuntsok and the other women were kicked and beaten during the arrest and later given electric shocks on the hands, shoulders, breasts, tongue and face. During interrogation each nun was suspended at least 15 minutes from the ceiling by her hands which were handcuffed behind her, her feet above the ground, and was then beaten with an iron rod whilst in this position.
Yet despite the attempts of the Chinese authorities to force Phuntsok into a confession, she refused. While in Drapchi prison, Phuntsok Nyidon and 13 other nuns made a recording on a tape-recorder smuggled into the prison which was later secretly circulated in Tibet. Each nun gave her name and dedicated a song or a poem to friends or supporters. The women’s words told of their gratitude to those who had not forgotten them in prison, of the brutal treatment suffered and of their dedication to Tibetan independence and to the Dalai Lama.
The PRC authorities deemed the public distributions of these songs amounted to “spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda” and the 14 nuns were tried on 8 October 1993.
Authorities confirmed that Phuntsok Nyidon was sentenced to an additional eight years, bringing her sentence to a total of 17 years and making her, at the time, the longest serving female political prisoner in Tibet. According to former colleagues, the sentence reflected her social status than her offence.
Another of the nuns involved was Ngawang Sangdol who had her sentence extended by six years. Ngawang Sangdol (profiled in the Human Rights Update, 30 November 1996) is currently serving an 18 year sentence after her sentence was extended by nine years in July 1996.
In 1995 Phuntsok Nyidon was named a recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award. This award honors people from around the world who have made a significant contribution to the cause of human rights often against great odds.
Sadly, Phuntsok Nyidon was unable to receive this prestigious award in person. She is still serving her sentence in Drapchi Prison and is not due to be released until 2006 when she will 38 years old.
The following was one of the songs recorded by Phuntsok and the 13 nuns while in Drapchi Prison:
Looking from the window
Seeing nothing but the sky
The clouds that float in the sky
I wish were my parents.
We, the captures friends in spirit,
We might be the ones to fetch the jewel
No matter how hard we are beaten
Our linked arms cannot be separated.
The cloud from the east
Is not a patch that is sewn?
The time will come when the sun
From beneath the clouds shall appear.
I am not sad
If asked why,
Days will follow days
And the time to release
From here will occur.