Following the release on medical parole of elderly Tibetan teacher Jigme Sangpo on March 31, 2002, and his subsequent arrival in the United States on July 13, 2002, Dui Hua shifted its attention to Ngawang Sangdrol, the young leader of a group known as the Singing Nuns of Drapchi. Ngawang Sangdrol had been detained in June 1992 and was subsequently tried and sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. She entered Drapchi Prison the same month.
In October 1992, Ngawang Sangdrol and 13 other imprisoned nuns secretly recorded 27 songs expressing love for the Dalai Lama and their desire for a Tibet free from Chinese rule. The recordings were smuggled out of Drapchi and were soon circulating in Tibet and abroad as the CD “Seeing Nothing but the Sky.” As a result of the recording, Ngawang Sangdrol and the other “singing nuns” received three-year sentence extensions. For her continued protests in prison, Ngawang Sangdrol’s sentence was extended again in 1996 and 1998.
Following intense discussions between Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ngawang Sangdrol was released on parole on October 14, 2002. Dui Hua received credible reports that she had serious health problems, and Kamm requested permission from the MFA to fly to Lhasa to meet her and ascertain whether she wished to receive medical treatment abroad. Permission was granted, and accompanied by an MFA officer, Kamm travelled to Lhasa in late February 2003.
On February 28, 2003, Ngawang Sangdrol, joined by her niece, was taken to see Kamm in a conference room of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region. She said she was suffering from severe headaches and requested Kamm’s help in seeking medical treatment abroad. Exactly one month later, on March 28, 2003, Ngawang Sangdrol departed China and arrived in the United States, accompanied by an officer of the US Embassy. After a brief stay in Switzerland, Ngawang Sangdrol settled in the United States, where she remains today.
One year later, in February 2004, the last of the Singing Nuns of Drapchi, Phuntsog Nyidron, had the remaining years of her sentence commuted by the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court. By then the atmosphere in Beijing regarding prisoner releases had begun to sour. It took two years for the Chinese government to approve Phuntsog Nyridon’s application for a passport. Unlike in the cases of Jigme Sangpo and Ngawang Sangdrol, Kamm’s application to visit the nun in Lhasa was not approved. Phuntsog Nyridon eventually departed Tibet and arrived in the United States in March 2006. She now lives in Switzerland, which has the highest population of Tibetans outside Asia.
The overseas Tibetan community, governments, and human rights NGOs lobbied for and welcomed Ngawang Sangdrol’s release and credited Dui Hua for arranging it. In 2006, French director Marie Louville released to critical acclaim the documentary Prisoner of Lhasa, telling the story of Ngawang Sangdrol and John Kamm.