China released Phuntsok Nyidron, the last of the “Drapchi 14 singing nuns” on 26 February 2004. According to John Kamm, President of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, she is now with her family in Lhasa.
Phuntsok had already served 15 years’ term out of her 16 years’ imprisonment sentence and was due for release in 2005. Associated Press (AP) reported that John Kamm believed the early release of Phuntsok as linked to recent American pressure, including a resolution (H.Res.157) passed by the House of Representatives calling on the Chinese government to release all Tibetan political prisoners. Phuntsok Nyidron’s case received particular mention in the resolution.
Phuntsok Nyidron, 35 years of age, was born in Phenpo County in the east of Lhasa City. She joined Michungri Nunnery when she was 18 years old. On 14 October 1989, Phuntsok was first arrested for taking part in a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa. She was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on charges of “Counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement against the masses” and for being a “ring leader” of the demonstration. In 1993, Phuntsok along with 13 other nuns recorded songs of freedom in Drapchi prison which led to the extension of her imprisonment sentence by another eight years making her total prison term 17 years. In April 2001, her sentence was reduced by a year and was due for release in 2005.
Phuntsok Nyidron was awarded the prestigious Reebok Human Rights Award in 1995. The award honours people around the world who have made a significant contribution to the cause of human rights against great odds. She was also honoured for her courageous sacrifice in the field of human rights by The June 4th Anniversay Committee and the The China Peace.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is happy to learn the release of Phuntsok Nyidron, though it maintains that China’s release of high-profile political prisoners before the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) is not uncommon. TCHRD believes Phuntsok’s release few weeks before the 60th UNHCHR in Geneva is well timed by China under the possibility of U.S. sponsored resolution that could slam China’s human rights record.
TCHRD does not recognize release of high-profile Tibetan political prisoners as a mark of improvement in human rights situation in Tibet. In 2003 TCHRD documented 157 known Tibetan political prisoners languishing in a network of prisons in Tibet. China must release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience if it is sincere about improving its human rights record.