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China: USCIRF Welcomes Arrival of Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidron in United States

China: USCIRF Welcomes Arrival of Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidron in United States

March 15, 2006

Anne Johnson, Director of Communications, (202) 523-3240, ext. 27

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the arrival in the United States today of Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidron, who had been imprisoned for 15 years for her religious belief and political activism. U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt informed USCIRF Chair Michael Cromartie of her arrival and congratulated the Commission for its role in obtaining her release. After repeated requests to the Chinese government, the Commission was permitted a brief meeting with Phuntsog Nyidron in Lhasa, Tibet, during its official delegation to China in August 2005 and pressed the Chinese government to allow her to travel abroad to seek medical attention. The Commission was the first group to be allowed to see Phuntsog Nyidron in over a year. The Commission worked with Congress, the White House, and the State Department, U.S. Ambassador Randt and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, as well as with the International Campaign for Tibet and other groups, on her behalf.

Phuntsog Nyidron was a nun at the Michungri nunnery when she was detained in 1989 for holding a peaceful demonstration celebrating the Dalai Lama's Nobel Peace Prize award and sentenced to eight years in prison. Her sentence was extended by nine years when recorded songs she and 13 other female prisoners recorded about Tibet and the Dalai Lama were smuggled from prison. According to numerous witnesses, Phuntsog Nyidron, and the other nuns imprisoned with her, were routinely beaten during their imprisonment. Phuntsog Nyidron was the last singing nun to be released from prison.

Phuntsog Nyidron's sentence was finally commuted in February 2004 and she was released from prison. However, because her political rights were suspended, she was barred from reentering a nunnery, speaking with the press, or meeting freely with foreigners. After her release, she developed medical complications that she could not address because she was denied a passport. During the Commission's meeting with her in August 2005, Phuntsog Nyidron said that she was under surveillance, her movement and associations restricted, and that she suffers from a "chronic" illness linked to years of ill-treatment in prison. She was unable to seek adequate medical attention in Tibet.

During its visit to China the Commission raised a number of individual cases of prisoners detained or sentenced on account of religious belief or practice, including other Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Falun Gong, Protestants, and Uighur Muslims. The Commission also pressed Chinese officials for ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and raised issues of legal reform, including the compatibility of Chinese laws, regulations, and practices with international human rights standards regarding the freedom of religion or belief. The Commission's China Policy Focus discusses the Commission's trip to China and includes recommendations for U.S. policy. China Policy Focus may be found on the Commission's web site at www.uscirf.gov.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the U.S. in mid-April 2006. The Commission urges President Bush to continue to press for additional prisoner releases and to vigorously raise the issue of legal reform so that arbitrary detentions, "enforced disappearances," and harassment of China's diverse and vital religious communities will end.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress.

Michael Cromartie, Chair

  • Felice D. Gaer, Vice Chair Nina Shea, Vice Chair Preeta D. Bansal, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Richard D. Land, Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, Ambassador John V. Hanford III, Ex-Officio, Joseph R. Crapa, Executive Director