Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Singing Tibetan nuns reunite to challenge China

March 9, 2008

LONDON, Mar 8 (Reuters) - It has been a remarkable journey for the
'singing nuns' of Drapchi prison, four of whom are in Britain to raise
awareness of the Tibetan plight, just as the world's attention is
turning to August's Beijing Olympics.

Jailed by the Chinese for civil disobedience in 1989, the Tibetan nuns
secretly recorded songs describing the beatings they received in
prison, praising exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and calling
for China to leave Tibet.

Now they are raising their voices again, this time in Britain, joining
a growing international chorus demanding action by China on human

The 14 nuns, jailed while some were still teenagers, were discovered
recording their songs by prison guards in Drapchi prison on the
outskirts of the Tibetan capital Lhasa, and their sentences were
extended by between five and nine years.

But the first cassette tape was smuggled out of the prison and out of
the Himalayan region, making its way to exile communities across the

"It is not very big, what we did. We just sang songs, peacefully, for
the love of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for a free Tibet," said
Ngawang Sangdrol, who spent 10 years in Drapchi prison.

"They say we want to destroy the government, but how can songs destroy
a government?" she asked.

On Saturday, Tibetan communities commemorated the 1959 abortive
uprising against Chinese rule which forced the Dalai Lama into exile
in India.

The nuns led a march from the Chinese embassy to the office of Prime
Minister Gordon Brown, where a delegation including Sangdrol presented
a petition asking the British leader to meet with the Dalai Lama, who
is due to visit Britain in May.

There are 119 known Tibetan political prisoners currently being held
by China, according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and
Democracy. Most of those are monks and nuns.

China is facing a growing chorus of opposition as the Olympics keeps
Beijing in the international spotlight.

It has controlled Tibet since People's Liberation Army troops marched
in 1950 and considers Tibet an integral part of its territory, calling
the Dalai Lama a "separatist".


One of the 'singing nuns', Ngawang Lochoe, died in custody in February
2001. Seven remain in Tibet, while others trekked through snow for ten
days to reach Nepal and eventual exile in India, the United States and

The three other women now in Britain -- Gyaltsen Drolkar, Namdrol
Lhamo and Phuntsog Nyidron -- settled in Belgium and Switzerland, and
spoke through an interpreter who struggled to interrupt their
rapid-fire Tibetan.

Asked for a message to send to Tibetans, the four women, wearing long
dresses and sitting cross-legged, proud but slightly nervous, spoke
fervently among themselves.

"Keep the spirit alive, know the world is watching, and don't be
disheartened," was the concise version of their message, delivered by
the interpreter.

Dalha Tsering, from the Tibetan Community in Britain, which
co-ordinated the nuns' reunion, said the women's story was "one of the
resilience of the human spirit".

Critics say China continues to repress Tibetans' religious
aspirations, especially their veneration for the Dalai Lama, who won
the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Periodic rioting by monks has been

China says it has spent billions of dollars developing the
impoverished Himalayan region, and raised its living standards.

And it has repeatedly said that it wants to keep politics out of the
August Games.

The Dalai Lama, who says he wants autonomy for Tibet not outright
independence, said in January that during the Games Tibet supporters
should protest peacefully in China against Beijing's rule. But he has
said he is not calling for a boycott.

"On the issue of the Beijing Olympics, it is common knowledge that his
Holiness the Dalai Lama has consistently supported the right of China
to host the 2008 Olympic Games," said a statement released from his
home in Dharamsala on Saturday.

Five groups who say they represent tens of thousands of exiled
Tibetans are planning a march from India into Tibet ahead of the Games
as part of a series of actions to try and embarrass China into ending
its rule in the Buddhist region.

Asked about the Olympics, Sangdrol said in the faltering English she
has learned since settling in the United States, that the Games should
go to "an honest country".

"In China there is no human rights and there is no religious speech,
there is even no freedom of speech," she said.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp, editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile and Myra MacDonald)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank