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UN Committee Hears Account of Torture in Tibet from Former Prisoner

November 11, 2008

Tibet Bureau, Geneva
November 9, 2008

Dharamshala -- The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) during its forty-first session on 6 November heard a testimony from a former political prisoner of the most inhuman treatment and severe torture meted out to Tibetan detainees by the Chinese prison authorities.

Phuntsog Nyidron Sanaschiga, who spent 15 years of her precious life behind bars in Tibet, bears testimony to the suffering of the Tibetan people and repression under the Chinese government.

Mounting international pressure on the Chinese government led to her eventual release on 15 March 2006.

Phuntsog Nyidron, at the age of 19, took part in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet in October 1989, when the Chinese government had imposed martial law. The Chinese authorities arrested her along with five fellow nuns for shouting long live the Dalai Lama and free Tibet to celebrate the conferment of Nobel Peace Prize on His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

"Following my arrest I was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment denied of legal representations. In 1993, along with 13 other political prisoners (all nuns) we secretly recorded songs in the prison that were in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and about the dire situation of the political prisoners.  When the Chinese authorities discovered our recordings, my sentence was extended by eight years, making my total sentence 17 years. Through these songs, we also wanted to communicate to our families that our spirits had not been broken,” she told the UN Committee Against Torture.

She said: "From my experience, I can testify before this distinguished Committee that the Tibetan political prisoners do not enjoy any of the rights supposedly guaranteed in various declarations of the Chinese constitution.   In the prison even if I had many health problems, adequate medical treatment was routinely denied to political prisoners. For instance, one of my prison mates died in 1995 when the Chinese authorities failed to provide immediate medical facilities."

"Whilst in prison, we underwent unimaginable torture. It was routine for the prisoners to be beaten with iron bars and tortured with electric-cattle prods. Sometimes we were beaten unconscious then woken up water-splashes to be tortured. During my initial months of detention, prison guards had my finger nails poked with the needle of the shoe-sewing machine.  Five nuns died from beatings and torture following a May 1998 prison protest at Drapchi Prison, there is no official explanation on how our colleagues died," she said.

She said: "It was due to the regular beatings and when three of our inmates were kept under solitary confinement, while being convinced we would die at the hands of the security personnel that we staged a hunger strike to take our own lives. There was no other way through which our grievances would be heard. We knew how physically we had suffered due to the inadequate, meager and unhygienic prison food plus the exhausting physical drills to which we were subjected to. We only ended the strike after four and half days when we were assured that the security personnel would not be used to beat us."

She further said: "Our 1989 protest was entirely peaceful, and yet I served 15 years in prison. It was routine for Communist China to treat political prisoners as the worst kind of criminals. For example, during the monthly family visits, general prisoners are allowed to see a total of three members of their family. However, when it came to political prisoners, only one member of our family would be allowed to visit us. Sometimes even the monthly family visit would be denied to us. Although the prison had some vocational sections, again political prisoners would never be given the opportunity to learn certain skills.

She said: "I must say that when a State targets a woman through violence it should be recognized as a criminal act.  I say this because our experience was that with impunity, security agents and police officials beat us like punching bags, tortured the naked bodies of Buddhist nuns with electric cattle-prods and killed our colleagues through such inhuman methods. In some cases, even trained dogs were set free to attack our naked bodies!  There have been cases where Tibetan women including nun have been “raped” by an electric-cattle prod!

"I conclude by urging you not to forget the very many Tibetans who have been imprisoned this year, solely for voicing their strong desire to preserve their religious, national and cultural identity and for their belief in the non-violent freedom struggle of Tibet," she added.

--Report filed by the Tibet Bureau, Geneva
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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