Imprisoned nun: I have no fear of dying in prison

Ngawang Rigdrol is a 24-year-old nun. She is currently serving seven years’ imprisonment for taking part in a peaceful demonstration and today is almost completely blind. In mid-June 1992, she carried the forbidden Tibetan national flag during a pro-independence protest around the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

For the first one month and twelve days following her arrest, Ngawang was kept in solitary confinement in Gutsa Detention Centre. During interrogation sessions, she was reportedly stripped naked and tied to a chair. After six months in Gutsa, Ngawang was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and subsequently transferred to Drapchi Prison.

In April 1995, reports indicated that Ngawang Rigdrol’s eyesight had deteriorated and that she could not see well. The reasons for this are unknown, although she may have suffered temporary damage from the solitary confinement in a darkened room in 1992.

Ngawang Rigdrol’s arrest coincided with a crackdown on Garu nunnery, where she lived. This nunnery, 5 kilometers north of Lhasa, has been a center of pro-independence activity since 19 December 1987. On that day, 20 Garu nuns led the first of nearly 50 protests that have been staged by nuns in Lhasa over the past five years. Sources report that over half of the known protests in Lhasa since 1987 have been led by Buddhist nuns. A political “re-education” ‘work team’ was reported to have been installed in the nunnery in 1993 to begin intensive re-education. The re-education work team is reportedly attempting to coerce the nuns into accepting a new code of discipline which includes the banning of any political or dissident activity. Ngawang is the sixth child in her family of two boys and nine girls. Her father is 71 years old and her mother passed away in 1994. Ngawang was allowed visitors only on the 15th day of each month. When her mother became critically ill, the family’s request for visitation rights was denied. Thus Ngawang was not able to see her mother prior to her death.

Ngawang has kept alive her courage and determination despite having been subjected to repeated inhumane treatment while in prison. Now 24 years old, she is almost blind. The little vision she retains are totally blurred and objects appear obscure. She has suffered regular beatings in prison and her right arm has been so badly damaged that she is not even able to lift a mug. Severe nerve impairment has resulted in the uncontrollable shaking of her hands.

Prison authorities have told her friends and relatives to advise Ngawang to reform her behaviour. They report that she exhibits a total disgust and disregard for prison regulations. When relatives, concerned for Ngawang’s health, plead with her to keep a low profile, her common response is, “I have no fear of dying in prison. I will sacrifice my life for my country. May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live long”.

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