In the 50 day countdown to the 50th anniversary of Tibet’s 1959 National Uprising, SFT profiled 50 courageous Tibetans. Each of these individuals has a remarkable story of courage and defiance to China’s occupation of their homeland. Please watch our video compilation to see their faces. Read their profiles to learn more about their remarkable lives.
There are countless more Tibetans inside Tibet and in exile whose heroic stories exemplify Tibetans’ determination to never give up until Tibet is free. We will continue to build on this archive of Profiles in Courage.
SFT pays tribute to the many Tibetans inside Tibet who we could not profile in the 50 day countdown out of concern for their safety. Many of the Tibetans living in Tibet who we did profile have been unjustly detained or imprisoned and need our help to secure their freedom.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the ultimate resistance figure of the Tibetan people, steadfastly and compellingly speaking out in advocacy of his people’s freedom and carrying the burden of leadership for decades.
Rather than summarize His Holiness’ biography, with which many are already familiar, we decided to pay tribute to him today with quotes from his statements on Tibetan Uprising Day over the years. His words convey better than we ever could the enduring compassion, strength, and conviction that permeates the Dalai Lama‘s efforts to attain a just resolution to the occupation of his homeland.
Excerpts from four of His Holiness’ March 10th statements are below, beginning with 1961, just under two years after His Holiness was forced into exile.
March 10, 1961
On the 10th of March 1959 the Tibetan people reasserted their Tibetan independence [after] suffering almost nine years of foreign domination. Foreign rule, alas, still continues in Tibet but…I am proud to know that the spirit of our people remains uncrushed and unshaken in their resolve to fight on till independence is regained. I know that the struggle, which began a few years ago is still being waged in Tibet against the invader and the oppressor who masquerades under the name and guise of ‘liberator’. I can confidently assert that the civilized world is, every day, becoming more and more aware of those, who, in the name of liberation, are crushing out the freedom of defenceless neighbours.
I want to remind my countrymen inside and outside Tibet that God’s ways are inscrutable and the travail of Tibet cannot be to no purpose. The cause of Truth and Justice must prevail and out of this night of horror and suffering a bright day for Tibet and its people is bound to dawn.
March 10, 1976
Seventeen years have passed since the Tibetans began their just struggle for their inherent rights of Tibetan national independence. On this Anniversary Day, I remember with gratitude and reverence all those Tibetans who have sacrificed and who are continuing to sacrifice everything they hold dear for this supreme cause….
In this twentieth century, the world has witnessed the rise of the sun of equal freedom. People of many nations are enjoying the warmth of freedom which they did not have before. In ancient times, we Tibetans were known for our high degree of civilization and courage in all Asia. Should we always remain slaves of the barbarous, suffering under their cruel domination?
The snowland of Tibet is blessed with a bountiful natural wealth, and rich natural beauty. Should this country of ours be converted into a war-machinery manufacturing fortress, and the Tibetan people, its rightful owners, reduced to the status of criminals perpetually subjected to oppression and humiliation?
By virtue of our secular karma, we Tibetans have been endowed with priceless mineral resources of gold, copper, iron, oil, gas, coal and lead. Do you wish to allow the barbarous brigands who have no right whatsoever, to plunder and cart away these resources of ours as they are doing now?
Every year we commemorate the March Tenth Anniversary Day. This we do neither for gay pageantry and pleasure nor is this forced upon us by others. This solemn occasion is a time for uplifting one’s spirit for rethinking and summarizing the present plight of the Tibetan people. Reminding ourselves of these, we should strive with renewed dedication and determination for freeing the Tibetan people from the present plight, and for realizing the ultimate objective of Tibetan national freedom.
Banish the sense of timidity, lethargy and the effort to evade hardships. Cultivate and develop the spirit of complete self-reliance. Volunteer for challenges and hardships. Work with devotion and with pleasure in the sense that it is in your own interest, and above all, in unity for achieving the goal of national freedom of the Tibetan people.
March 10, 1992
As we commemorate today the thirty-third anniversary of the March 10 Uprising in 1959, I am more optimistic than ever before about the future of Tibet….
The collapse of totalitarian regimes in different parts of the world, the break-up of the Soviet empire and re-emergence of sovereign, independent nations reinforce our belief in the ultimate triumph of truth, justice and the human spirit. The bloody October Revolution of 1917, which controlled the fate of the Soviet Union for seven decades, came to an end in the bloodless, non-violent August Revolution of 1991.
We know from history that the mightiest of empires and military powers come and go. No power remains sacrosanct forever….
The future Tibet will be an oasis of peace in the heartland of Asia where man and nature will live in perfect harmony, benefiting not only Tibet and Tibetans, but also helping to create the basis for a more cordial relationship between India and China….
May our struggle soon lead to a restoration or our legitimate rights and to peace and prosperity in the whole region.
March 10, 2009
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising against Communist China’s repression in Tibet. Since last March widespread peaceful protests have erupted across the whole of Tibet. Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride….We pay tribute and offer our prayers for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships, including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.
[After occupying] Tibet, the Chinese Communist government carried out a series of repressive and violent campaigns that have included ‘democratic’ reform, class struggle, communes, the Cultural Revolution, the imposition of martial law, and more recently the patriotic re-education and the strike hard campaigns. These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth….
These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet. Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them. Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction; in short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death.
Looking back on 50 years in exile, we have witnessed many ups and downs. However, the fact that the Tibet issue is alive and the international community is taking growing interest in it is indeed an achievement. Seen from this perspective, I have no doubt that the justice of Tibet’s cause will prevail, if we continue to tread the path of truth and non-violence.
Writer, Blogger, Poet
In the past several years, Woeser has become the most prominent Tibetan voice speaking publicly about life under occupation from inside Tibet and China, giving voice to the millions of Tibetans who have no forum to express themselves to the outside world. Beginning with a book of essays on Tibetan life published – and then banned in China – in 2003, and then through prolific blogging and internet reporting, Woeser has fearlessly and movingly brought the reality of Tibet under Chinese rule to Chinese and international audiences in a way never done before. She is considered to be the first Tibetan intellectual who has used modern media to bring Tibetan views and debates into the public eye.
Having studied Chinese literature in the Chinese Department of South-West Nationalities Institute, Chengdu, and worked as an editor with the Lhasa-based Chinese language journal, “Tibetan Literature,” Woeser had the education, background and talent to be one of the bright stars of Chinaâ€™s “New Tibet.” Instead, she is now unemployed, living in self-exile in Beijing. Ironically, her location and her ability to only read and write Chinese have brought her critical views a prominence they would likely never have had were she writing in Tibetan, from Tibet. Hers is one of the only Tibetan voices reaching China, or the outside world.
Woeser was born in Lhasa in 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, to a Tibetan mother and a half Tibetan, half Chinese father. Her father was an officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army, and both parents were members of the Chinese Communist Party. When she was four years old, Woeser’s family moved to Kardze, Kham (Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan). After the worst turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, Woeser received a Chinese-language education: what she describes as “a red education.” Education in Tibetan language was not available. Later, she studied literature at the Southwest Institute for Nationalities (today called the Southwest University for Nationalities) in Chengdu and worked for two years as a journalist in Dartsedo (Kangding) before moving to Lhasa in 1990. There, she became an editor for the magazine “Tibetan Literature” and began to write poetry. As her literary reputation grew, she was given the opportunity to study at the Lu Xun Institute in Beijing.
Woeser says that she “used to believe the army came to Tibet to set Tibetans free.” But in Lhasa, Woeser began for the first time to question what she had learned about the relationship between China and Tibet. She became interested in Buddhism, and began to read translations of books smuggled into Tibet, including John Avedon’s “In Exile From the Land of the Snows” about China’s invasion of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s escape into exile. At first, Woeser was skeptical of what she read, but when she asked her father and an uncle, they confirmed that the majority of what she had read was true.
In an interview with Asia Media, Woeser said:
“As soon as I heard this, I stopped believing in the Communist Party. Those books had a huge impact on me.
“It was incredibly moving and completely the opposite of what I’d learned in school. We had been taught that the old Tibet was dark and backward and a very frightening place, and that the PLA came and gave us a better life.”
In 1999, Woeser published a volume of poetry in which she explored Tibetan identity and “sensitive” issues indirectly. It was not until 2003, when she published her second book, “Notes on Tibet,” a collection of short stories and prose, that she fell afoul of the Chinese authorities.
“Notes on Tibet” was a best-seller in China, but was banned in September of that year for revealing opinions â€œharmful to the unification and solidarity of [the Chinese] nation.â€ According to the website Tibet Writes, the official indictment against Woeser accused her of “stepping into the wrong political terrain” and “praising the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa, encouraging belief in religion” and generally “having the wrong political stance.” She was told to leave her job, unless she admitted her mistakes.
In a letter of reply to her work unit, dated 14 September 2003, Woeser said she was temporarily leaving Lhasa because to deny her belief in Buddhism and confess that she should not have “used [her] own eyes to observe Tibetâ€™s reality” would “violate the calling and conscience of a writer.” Her refusal to admit wrongdoing meant losing her job, having all health, retirement and other benefits terminated and being evicted from her home. To make life easier on her friends and family, she left Lhasa to stay with friends in Beijing.
From there, Woeser continued to post poetry and essays on Tibetan culture and the political situation on the internet. Her writing began to break new ground, exploring the feelings of Tibetans under Chinese rule, giving a glimpse of the heartache and hardship of daily life, and also reporting news and information that few reporters or monitoring organizations could access.
In the words of exiled Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu, Woeser’s first blog in 2005 “[set] new standards for frank discussions on issues such as AIDS in Tibet, the Tibet railway, the Cultural Revolution in Tibet, and the March 10th Uprising, which are not only highly sensitive but dangerous to think about aloud…Her writing provides a stark immediacy to events and brings them up-close and personal as no report by foreign journalists or â€œexpertsâ€ can.”
Unable to publish in China, Woeser had several books published on Taiwan, notably “Forbidden Memory, a history of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet,” a collection of nearly 300 rare photos taken in Lhasa during the period by her father. She spent six years doing research for the book, meeting secretly with more than 70 people. She says many were too frightened to speak with her. In 2006, when Woeser’s blogs were shut down by official decree, she started a blog on an overseas server.
In 2007, Woeser received an award from the Norwegian Authorsâ€™ Union honoring freedom of expression, but was prevented from applying for a passport to leave China to accept the prize in Oslo. On March 10, 2008, whenÂ demonstrations began in Lhasa and eventually swept through Tibet, she was briefly placed under house arrest in Beijing. From her apartment, she published some of the most detailed reports of the protests across Tibet, when restrictions by the Chinese authorities made it almost impossible for Tibetans to get information out. Her blog was disabled by hackers, but translations of her reports were posted on China Digital Times and Boxun, and were invaluable to Tibet organizations doing monitoring and reporting.
Woeser’s writing is always under threat of censorship, and she herself seems disturbingly vulnerable to interference from the Chinese authorities. But Woeser is not deterred by harassment or threats. She is entirely forthright about her views and observations, and utterly determined to speak out.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Woeser once described how, for years, the Chinese Communist Party’s literary and art workers “revised Tibet, repainted Tibet, resung Tibet, redanced Tibet, refilmed Tibet, resculpted Tibet…Actual history was changed in this image, coloured by red ideology. The memories of generations of Tibetans were changed.”
In an interview with Asia Media, Woeser explained that, “As a writer, I felt I needed to write about these things, the real Tibet, and not the false Tibet presented by the government.”
On July 23, 2008, Woeser launched a lawsuit against the Chinese government for preventing her from traveling abroad. On August 21, she was detained by police in Lhasa, where she had gone to visit family during the Olympics, and held for eight hours. She was accused of photographing the extremely heavy army and police presence there, and forced to leave her motherâ€™s home.
As she left, she wrote the following poem, “The Fear in Lhasa”
A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where the fear is in your breathing, in the beating of your heart,
In the silence when you want to speak but donâ€™t,
In the catch in your throat.
A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where constant fear has been wrought by legions with their guns,
By countless police with their guns,
By plainclothesmen beyond counting,
And still more by the colossal machinery of the State that stands behind them night and day;
But you mustnâ€™t point a camera at them or youâ€™ll get a gun pointed at you,
maybe hauled off into some corner and no one will know.
A hurried farewell to Lhasa,
Where the fear starts at the Potala and strengthens as you go east, through the Tibetansâ€™ quarter.
Dreadful footsteps reverberate all round, but in daylight you wonâ€™t glimpse even their shadow;
They are like demons invisible by day, but the horror is worse, it could drive you mad.
A few times I have passed them and the cold weapons in their hands…
A hurried farewell to Lhasa:
The fear in Lhasa breaks my heart.â€ƒGot to write it down.
Robbie Barnett, professor of Contemporary Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, described Woeser as “a humanist…an author struggling to describe the emotions and experiences of individuals she’s met in a world where many of their most important memories and wishes have been forbidden.”
In a review of an English translation of Woeser’s potery, “Tibet’s True Heart,” High Peaks, Pure Earth said:
“Woeser is a unique and much needed Tibetan voice. In the burning house of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China, Woeser has so far managed to find and make use of every fire exit and trap door in order to be heard.”
Whatever the words used to describe Woeser’s contribution to the cause of the Tibetan people, it has been extraordinary. Her courageous, heartfelt, and astute writing has opened a window to the experience of Tibetans in Tibet that never existed before, and has irrevocably changed the struggle being played out between Tibetans and the Chinese government.
Woeser lives in Beijing with her husband, prominent Chinese intellectual and Tibet watcher Wang Lixiong. She writes in Chinese at http://woeser.middle-way.net/ and much of her work is translated into English by High Peaks Pure Earth.
The Nine Exiled Tibetan Delegates to the Beijing Women’s Conference:
Tsering Tsomo, Yoden Thonden, Chimi Thonden, Dorji Dolma, Tenki Tendufla, Phuntsok Meston, Tsering Dolma Gyalthong, Kesang Wangmo, Tenzin Jimpa
The first-ever direct action by exiled Tibetans inside China was carried out by nine exiled Tibetan delegates to the UN’s Fourth World Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. The action followed a string of events intended by the Chinese government to silence Tibetans who were trying to bring the experiences and concerns of Tibetan women – under occupation and in exile – to the international conference.
As the 39th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) opened in New York on March 15, 1995, controversy erupted over the issue of accreditation of NGOs to the Beijing conference. More than 1,323 NGOs were accredited, but conspicuously omitted were outspoken China critics, including all Tibet related NGOs as well as the International Taiwanese Alliance. In effect, this meant Tibetan woman were going to be barred from the World Conference on Women in Beijing.
This did not stop them. Fifty Tibetans in exile applied for Chinese visas, and by disguising their affiliations, nine Tibetan women and a dozen supporters obtained visas to attend the NGO Forum in Beijing that was taking place parallel to the UN Conference.
On August 26, 1995, a Tibetan women’s delegation arrived in Beijing. On the first day of the NGO Forum, the Tibet delegation presented a film on Tibetan refugee women, only to have a Chinese man grab the video cassette from the VCR and attempt to run with it. China Daily, the English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said that this “was an attempt to split China, and was deemed unacceptable to the police officers on duty and an infringement on China’s sovereignty.”
The next day, the delegation members protested their treatment, walking to the Forum’s center in single file under pouring rain, mouths gagged with the silk Chinese scarves that had been distributed to all at the opening ceremony a few days earlier. The crowd that gathered around themÂ spontaneously started singing freedom songs, like the anthem of the American Civil Rights movement, “we shall overcome.” Photographs of the gagged Tibetan women with tears flowing down their faces – a symbolic snapshot of China’s great injustice towards Tibetans – were broadcast around the globe the next day.
After this courageous action, the Tibetan delegates continued to use the conference to speak out and educate others about the mistreatment of and human rights violations against Tibetan women, including through setting up an unsanctioned booth displaying banners reading “Tibetan Women in Exile” and “STOP the KILLINGS!” The heavy handed surveillance, harassment, intimidation and even physical assaults by Chinese authorities continued to the end of the conference. However, interest in the issue of Tibet, combined with China’s outrageous conduct, led to unprecedented, sweeping and intense media coverage of Tibet, including headline stories in newspapers, TV, and magazines around the globe.
The actions by the Tibetan delegation at the Beijing Women’s Conference took tremendous courage: the women did not know what consequences might befall them for speaking honestly about the injustices in Tibet under Chinese occupation and openly confronting the Chinese government’s iron control over Tibetans. Their action was the first instance of Tibetan refugees openly challenging Chinese policies in Tibet, on Chinese soil. It was inspirational to Tibetans everywhere, and focused global attention on the issue of Tibet like nothing else could have. It was the first action in what has become a proud history of Tibetans and their supporters speaking truth to power in Beijing; a tradition that will only continue.
Ugyen Trinley Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
Ugyen Trinley Dorje was born Apo Gaga on June 26, 1985, to nomadic parents in the Lhatok region of Kham, Tibet. When he was seven years old, he was recognized as the 17th Karmapa by a search party following predictive instructions left by the 16th Karmapa. The 17th Karmapa was installed in 1992 at Tsurphu Monastery in central Tibet, the Karmapa’s traditional seat in Tibet.
The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, or “Black Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism. As the head of one of the four main schools, he is a powerful and influential leader among Tibetans. With China’s abduction of the young Panchen Lama in 1995, the Karmapa was for several years the highest figure of Buddhism living in Tibet.
The Chinese government, which had so drastically failed to win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people and failed to sway their deep loyalty to the Dalai Lama, saw in the young Karmapa an opportunity to gain influence over Tibetans. By indoctrinating the Karmapa, who had been approved by the Dalai Lama, they aimed to gain unprecedented control over Tibetans. With this strategy in mind, the Chinese government gave official approval for Ugyen Trinley Dorje’s selection as the Karmapa, and attempted to groom him as a future puppet leader.
At Tsurphu monastery, the Karmapa studied the Buddhist sciences of the mind, learned ritual, and practiced sacred arts. As the years went by, however, the restrictions placed upon his religious study by the Chinese authorities, including lack of access to important teachers who had fled to India, became unendurable. He also began to fear that the Chinese government planned to use him to divide Tibetans from the Dalai Lama.
After months of careful planning, on December 28, 1999, the 14-year-old Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat. Instead, he donned the clothes of a layperson and climbed out a window. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery , he began a daring journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi to Nepal and then India, arriving in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile, on January 5, 2000.
The young Karmapa’s dramatic escape made headlines around the world and was a huge embarrassment for the Chinese government, which had considered him to be a handpicked lieutenant. The Chinese authorities tried to pass his escape off as a religious trip, saying he had gone to India to fetch sacred artifacts, including the ceremonial black hat of the Kagyu sect, and would soon return. But their efforts to save face were weak at best. When asked by a reporter if this was indeed the real reason for his trip, the Karmapa said, “What would be the purpose of taking [the hat] back to China — to put it on [Chinese President] Jiang Zemin’s head?”
The Karmapa resides at Gyuto Monastery in Sidhbari, near Dharamsala, India. Since arriving in India and gaining refugee status, the Karmapa has focused primarily on religion, not politics. However, increasingly, the international media is seeking his views on the situation in Tibet and speculating about the leadership role he might take in the Tibetan freedom movement when the Dalai Lama passes away.
In 2008, the Karmapa said, “As far as I’m concerned, the situation in Tibet, particularly the political situation, has reached a level of emergency.”
What the role of the Karmapa will be in addressing the crisis in Tibet in years to come remains to be seen, but whatever the future holds for him, his flight into exile in 2000 will always be remembered as one of the sharpest and most public repudiations of China’s failed policies in Tibet.
Writer, Scholar, Political activist
Jamyang Norbu is a political commentator, influential activist and prolific writer. He was born in 1949, the year that Chinese soldiers first crossed the Drichu (Yangtze) River and invaded Tibet.
Jamyang was educated at St. Joseph’s School in Darjeeling and lived in exile in India for 40 years. In 1967, he worked for the Tibetan government-in-exile, serving in various posts. He then joined the Tibetan Resistance fighting force in Mustang. In 1970, Jamyang was one of the conveners of the first Tibetan Youth Congress and continued to serve as a member of the Central Executive Committee for ten years. Jamyang currently lives in Tennessee with his wife, Dr. Tenzing Chounzom, and their two daughters.
Jamyang is best known for his political writings, but he is also a distinguished literary writer.Â He served as the director of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (1979-84), and also the manager of the first Tibetan cultural troupe to tour internationally in 1975. He has written and produced five plays: “The Chinese Horse” (1970), “Yuru” (1981), “The Claws of Karma” (1982), “Official Problem” (1984), “Titanic II” (1998) and a traditional opera libretto, “The Iron Bridge” (1983).
In 1999, he co-founded the Amnye Machen Institute, Tibetan Centre for Advanced Studies, in Dharamsala, later serving as Director.
Jamyang has lectured on Tibet at more than a hundred universities and institutions in the USA, Canada, Australia, France, India, Japan and the UK; at such venues as the Harvard Law School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Stanford University, University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Berkeley, Cambridge University, and others. He has also appeared on TV and radio shows all over the world to argue the case for Tibet.
Jamyang has written several books and theater pieces in English and in Tibetan. In 2000 he received the Hutch Crossword Book Award, the most prestigious literary award of India, for his popularÂ book, “The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes.”
In addition to his literary talent, Jamyangâ€™s ferocious intellect has led him to produce some of the most succinct and indisputable arguments for Tibetan independence.
His famous Rangzen Charter clearly articulates the case for independence. Most recently, Jamyang released his â€˜giftâ€™ to rangzen (independence) activists this Losar, in honor of the widespread campaign of civil disobedience being waged by Tibetans inside Tibet. It is a comprehensive guide full of historical proof that Tibet was an independent country before the Chinese invasion.
Just days ago, Jamyang republished his commemoration to the 1956 and the 1959 Uprisings in Tibet, titled “March Winds.” It is a must read: http://www.jamyangnorbu.com/blog/2009/03/06/march-winds/.
The following quote poignantly addresses the importance of remembering Tibetan heroes past and present as we have tried to do with the Profiles in Courage for the past 46 days:
The one prediction we can make with any confidence about the future of Tibet is that there will be more uprisings. Therefore remembering and honouring these events of our recent past should not be viewed as a symbolic ritual or an academic or literary task. It should rather be an occasion for us to renew our commitment to fight for freedom and justice, and to prepare for that day in the near future when the final uprising, the rangzen revolution, will surely come.
It is thanks to visionaries like Jamgyang Norbu that when that final revolution comes, Tibetans and their supporters will be ready to seize the moment. We honor his fierce spirit and lifelong contribution to the cause of Tibet.
Cadre; Political Prisoner
Norzin Wangmo is a cadre from Ngaba Trochu county of Ngaba, a hot bed of political resistance in eastern Tibet. Exact details of the charges against her are not known, but she was convicted and sentenced on November 3rd, 2008 to five years in prison for passing news through the phone and internet about the situation in Tibet to the outside world. According to one report, Norzin Wangmo, who is also described by a Tibetan friend as ‘Walza’, meaning ‘courageous’, underwent torture following her detention in April.
In recent years, the Chinese authorities have handed down extremely harsh sentences to Tibetans who allegedly passed on information about protests in Tibet; sometimes the sentences for communicating about protests have been harsher than for participating in them.
Norzin worked at the Judicial Bureau of Trochu County, Ngaba, and is also a writer. She was detained during the protests in Tibet last spring, as were countless others.Â While in detention, an article she had written titled “Games of Politics” was published in the magazine “Popular Arts.”
A friend of Norzin’s wrote a letter to her when she disappeared in spring 2008, and again after learning of her sentence in November. An excerpt of the second letter reads:
“In your thirties, the prime of life, the critical juncture when your child needs educating, you and other heroes and heroines like you parted ways with your parents, split up with your spouses, and made orphans of your children for the sake of truth, and had to take the path alone. Five years is one thousand eight hundred and twenty five days. It is forty three thousand eight hundred hours. To have to spend the best years of your life in a dark prison cell, what misery! That may be your glory, but as you know, an ocean of inexpressible suffering lies behind that accolade of glory. There is no certainty that the experience will not write the final word on your youth and affection, your dreams and ambitions. One thing that makes me happy is that they say you kept your confidence and attitude together while in prison. That is a great reassurance to me, for one. Dear friend!”
This friend also assured Norzin Wangmo that her son would be taken care of and to try not to worry about him, saying:
“Moreover, if you are someone who is prepared to go to prison for the sake of truth, your son can hardly be an ordinary person.”
For a simple telephone conversation to result in 5 years imprisonment is a striking example of China’s extreme control and repression in Tibet. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure more Tibetans do not suffer the same harsh consequences as Norzin Wangmo. We honor her courage and pledge to work for her release.
AIDS activist/NGO Worker; Political Prisoner
Wangdu is a former Project Officer for an HIV/AIDS program in Lhasa run by the Australian Burnet Institute that developed resources to educate Tibetans about HIV. He is originally from Dechen Township, Taktse County, around 25 kilometers east of Lhasa. Wangdu is fluent in Chinese and, a former Jokhang monk, used to lead tours of the Jokhang.
He was first detained on March 8, 1989, the day martial law took effect in Lhasa after three days of protest. His three-year sentence to â€˜reform through laborâ€™ was extended to eight years’ imprisonment after he and 10 other political prisoners signed a petition stating that the 1951 17-Point Agreement was forced on an independent Tibet.
Following his release in 1995, Wangdue began working to create HIV/AIDS awareness, first in Lhasa’s brothels and nightclubs but gradually expanding to schools and government offices in neighbouring counties and towns. His efforts helped raise critical awareness about this fast spreading epidemic in Tibetan communities.
Wangdu was detained again on March 14, 2008, the day protests and rioting erupted in Lhasa after four days of peaceful demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the March 10, 1959 Uprising. He was later charged with â€œespionageâ€ by the Lhasa City Intermediate Peopleâ€™s Court and sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly passing on information about the situation in Tibet to the outside world. Six other Tibetans were given long sentences in connection to the case.
An article in the Lhasa Evening News on November 8 reported the sentencing of seven Tibetans including Wangdu and Migmar Dhondup, who also worked for an NGO, is known as a passionate conservationist and was sentenced to 14 years in prison for â€œespionageâ€. Both Migmar Dhondup and Wangdu were accused of collecting â€œintelligence concerning the security and interests of the state and provid[ing] it to the Dalai cliqueâ€¦prior to and following the â€˜March 14â€™ incidentâ€ (International Campaign for Tibet).
A former political prisoner who shared a cell in Drapchi prison and carried out labor with Wangdu in the prisonâ€™s greenhouses during his first sentence told ICT:
“During that time in prison [the early 1990s] I became very close to [Wangdu] and he started learning English with me from [another prisoner]. He is such an open-minded, talented, easy-going guy and got on really well with other prisoners while he was in Drapchi. He is very good at Tibetan literature and painting and Chinese language as well. He used to worry about the new generation in Tibet because they are losing their culture and their language, and he often criticized people for not being interested in anything other than money. The last time I saw him, when we said goodbye to each other, I was very sad.â€
Wangdu devoted his life to promoting and educating Tibetan communities. His imprisonment shows the lengths to which the Chinese government will go to silence those who advocate for the Tibetan people’s health and well being. We honor his work and pledge to work for his release.