Phuntsog Nyidron, the last of the “Singing Nuns of Drapchi” to be released from prison, departed Beijing for the United States today. After waiting more than two years, her application for a passport was finally granted and she was allowed to leave China. She flew from Lhasa to Beijing on March 14. The next day she boarded a United Airlines flight to San Francisco, accompanied by an officer of the US Embassy, and arrived the same day, March 15.
Phuntsog Nyidron has lived with her family outside Lhasa since her release from Drapchi Prison on February 26, 2004. Because her political rights were suspended for five years following her release, she was barred from reentering a nunnery, speaking with the press, or meeting freely with foreigners. Police in Lhasa placed her under strict surveillance.
Nevertheless, thanks in large part to the concern of the international community, Phuntosg Nyidron was allowed to meet with a delegation of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Their concern, combined with the hard work of several governments and NGOs, has made possible Phuntsog Nyidron’s departure from China for medical treatment abroad.
Phuntsog Nyidron was a nun at the Michungri nunnery when she was detained on October 14, 1989 for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.” She was subsequently sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment by the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court on November 25, 1989. In September 1993, she was convicted along with 13 other female prisoners for committing “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” while in prison and given an additional eight-year sentence. After a one-year sentence reduction for good behavior in March 2001, the remainder of her sentence was finally commuted on February 26, 2004 and she was released from prison.
Dui Hua notes that the key obstacle preventing Phuntsog Nyidron from leaving sooner for medical treatment abroad was the refusal of the authorities to grant her a passport while her political rights were under restriction. “Chinese law is very clear on this point,” said Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm. “Chinese citizens cannot be denied passports simply because their political rights have been deprived by a court. The police may deny a passport to a person the government considers may create a threat to national security or do serious harm to national interests, but exclusion on such grounds should be the rare exception rather than the norm. We hope that the proper application of Chinese law regarding passports in the case of Phuntsog Nyidron represents the recognition that ex-prisoners whose political rights are suspended have the right to hold passports and travel abroad.”
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
March 15, 2006