- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I was 19 years old when I made the protest that resulted in my imprisonment for 15 years. It happened in 1989, when my country, Tibet, was under martial law. Together with a group of fellow Tibetan nuns, I went to the Barkhor area of central Lhasa, and we shouted, ‘Long live the Dalai Lama!’ and ‘Free Tibet.’ We had been inspired by the news that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, and we wanted to make a statement of our continued loyalty to him.

I did not experience freedom again until I was finally released to the care of the D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet on March 15. On my arrival in Washington, I was told the Chinese government had apparently allowed me to go to the U.S. to help ensure a smooth and successful visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who meets President Bush. I am an ordinary Tibetan, and it is overwhelming for me to think my name was linked this way to China’s top leader.

When I was first imprisoned, Hu Jintao was party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region. He presided over the imposition of martial law, and the imprisonment and torture of many thousands of Tibetans for peaceful protests like my own.

We knew how dangerous it was to express our views in Tibet — overt expressions of loyalty to the Dalai Lama are forbidden by the Chinese authorities. So, on that October day in 1989, I was prepared for whatever I had to endure. Together with several fellow nuns, I was seized by Chinese plainclothes police, dragged to a van and taken to prison.

We underwent unimaginable torture. I was beaten with iron bars and electric-shock prods for daring to express my views and for refusing to submit to political education. Sometimes we were beaten unconscious and had to be dragged back to our cells.

In 1993, I was among a group of nuns in prison who secretly recorded songs expressing our devotion to the Dalai Lama and hopes for the freedom of our homeland, on a tape cassette that was smuggled out of prison. Through these songs, we wanted to communicate to our families that our spirits had not been broken. I had no idea until later that these songs became known all over the world, and we were described as the “singing nuns” in newspaper articles.

I realized I was free the moment I was handed over to a U.S. Embassy official in Beijing on March 14 to fly to America. I was so moved to find that the embassy official had a Tibetan-English phrase book with him, to communicate with me during the flight. Through this simple act, I realized that people in the outside world cared about me and that the U.S. government was genuinely concerned about the plight of my people.

My protest in 1989 was entirely peaceful, and yet I served 15 years in prison. The Tibetan struggle has been overwhelmingly nonviolent — despite 50 years of oppression, there are no Tibetan suicide-bombers. This is because of the leadership of the Dalai Lama, who has consistently urged nonviolence on his supporters.

From my own experience, I can say categorically there is nothing the Chinese government can do that can distance the Tibetan people from the Dalai Lama. If Chinese authorities change their attitude toward him, it would contribute to a change in the Tibetans’ attitude toward China.

A few days after President Hu Jintao visits Washington, D.C., my dream of meeting the Dalai Lama will be fulfilled, as I will have an audience with him here in the United States. I know I represent very many Tibetans when I say it is my dearest wish that the Dalai Lama, who is 71 this year, be able to visit Tibet as soon as possible.

The Dalai Lama is universally respected among world leaders. He is the only person with the moral and spiritual authority to unite Tibetans in Tibet and in exile. China should surely trust him, as the world does.

I am told President Bush supports the Dalai Lama’s efforts for a negotiated solution to Tibet. The Dalai Lama has always said his main priority is the fate of Tibetans in Tibet. It is my hope this visit by Hu Jintao, who has such a dark legacy on Tibet, may contribute to an opportunity for our Dalai Lama to be united with his people in Tibet.

Phuntsog Nyidron, a former Mechungri nun from Lhasa, was imprisoned in Tibet for a peaceful protest of Chinese rule. She is a recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award.

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