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Ex-prisoner raises Tibetan issue 'Singing nun' tale of brutality points to Chinese repression

March 15, 2009

Posted: March 12, 2009 |

By Benjamin Cunningham - Staff Writer , Prague Post

Fifty years ago March 10, the Chinese government brutally cracked down
on a Tibetan rebellion, forcing the Dalai Lama into exile. If there is
any doubt that repression continues, a singing Buddhist nun named
Gyaltsen Drolkar cleared the picture on a trip to Prague.

"In 1990, I took part in a peaceful demonstration," she said. "I knew I
would be arrested, and I knew I would be tortured. I knew I would suffer."

Then came hangings, electric shock, torture with various "tools" and 12
years in a Chinese prison.

"It was not only physical torture," Drolkar said. "I thought I would
never get out."

Drolkar spoke quietly in Tibetan at a press conference sitting
shoulder-to-shoulder with activists March 6. "The Czech Republic has the
EU presidency. They believe their cause can be heard," said Eva
Dobrovolná, spokeswoman for Amnesty International Czech Republic.

Drolkar was a part of a group of so-called ‘singing nuns," or the
"Drapchi 14," who smuggled tapes into prison and recorded Tibetan songs
that were then smuggled back out. For their efforts, the nuns' initial
four-year prison sentences were extended eight more years. One of the
nuns died in custody; seven still live in Tibet, and six more, including
Drolkar, live in asylum.

In March of last year, an uprising broke out after the Chinese
government suppressed a Buddist monk protest in the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa. The Chinese government says that 19 Chinese were killed in rioting.

The Tibetan government-in-exile says that 220 Tibetans died, more than
1,200 were injured, and 7,000 were arrested. The events drew
international attention as China prepped for the Beijing Olympics, but
some worry that with the Olympics now in the past, the issue is fading
from the international agenda.

"This kind of repression is something that has not been seen since the
Cultural Revolution," said Vincent Metten, the Brussels-based EU policy
director of the International Campaign for Tibet, referring to Chinese
leader Mao Zedong's social engineering campaign, which a recent study
says killed between 750,000 and 1.5 million rural Chinese.

"No foreigners are allowed to enter Tibet today, and the clear objective
is to not have witnesses," Metten added.

The International Campaign for Tibet counts 628 Tibetan political
prisoners arrested since last year and an additional 1,200 people missing.

Just months after defeating Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces in a
23-year civil war, Mao Zedong and the communists invaded Tibet in
October 1950. The Chinese government still refers to the events as the
Peaceful Liberation.

By 1956, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was backing Tibetan
guerillas, and fighting continued until 1962. The CIA trained Tibetan
rebels in neighboring Nepal until 1974.

March 10 was the 50th anniversary of the seminal event of this period, a
revolt against Chinese rule in Lhasa. The Chinese reaction led to the
flight of Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, and an estimated 80,000
refugees streamed across the border into India, where the Tibetan
government-in-exile still sits in the city of Dharamsala.

Within the Tibetan community a political debate rages between pursuing
full independence from China or strong autonomy within the Chinese
state. The Dalai Lama seeks autonomy not independence.

"The common ground for everybody is a better human rights situation,"
Metten said. "There may be differences in political tactics, but they
are just words and concepts."

Amnesty International staged protest outside the Chinese Embassy in
Prague March 10.

Global support

A petition circulated urging Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek to bring up
the Tibetan issue at the upcoming EU-China summit to take place in
Prague. Green Party Deputy Kate”ina Jacques chairs the Group of Friends
of Tibet of the Czech Parliament, and will deliver the petition to
Topolánek.

"People meet here every year March 10 and every year the Chinese Embassy
tries to stop it by staging their own event," said Dobrovolná of Amnesty
International.

No firm date is set for the China meeting, though it is slated for
sometime after the April 2 G20 summit in London, according to a
statement released by a Czech EU presidency. The Chinese canceled a
scheduled summit with Europe last December after French President
Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama.

Meanwhile, signs of Tibetan resistance remain. In late February, many
Tibetans did not celebrate a national holiday to mourn the violent
events of last year. One monk from the Kirti Monastery immolated
himself. Last year, the same monastery saw 572 monks arrested.

Drolkar calls the current conditions in Tibet "a kind of martial law."

"Until last March, it was possible to talk to my family, but since last
year it became very difficult. A few times I got through. They insisted
that I don't call back, they are living in fear. “ The whole Tibetan
plateau is a prison."

Benjamin Cunningham can be reached at
bcunningham@praguepost.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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