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Former Tibetan nun recalls ‘jail torture’ at Paris march

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Gyaltsen Drolkar spent 12 years in a Chinese jail where she says she was relentlessly tortured, escaping after her release in an arduous trek across the Himalayas to Nepal and then onto Belgium where she now lives.

The former Tibetan nun was one of several thousand protesters who rallied in Paris on Saturday to mark the failed 1959 uprising against China that forced the Dalai Lama to flee into exile, and to try and put the spotlight back onto the Tibetan cause.

China's Communist regime is accused of widespread repression of Tibetans' religion, culture and language that has sparked an unprecedented wave of self-immolations, although Beijing categorically denies this, saying it has brought prosperity and better living conditions to an impoverished region.

"I was freed a while back now, and I'm lucky that I now live in the West, but I still have physical after-effects," Drolkar told AFP, a Tibetan flag wrapped around her shoulders, the Eiffel Tower in the background.

The 45-year-old was arrested in 1990 for taking part in a peaceful protest calling on Chinese authorities to respect freedom of expression and religion in Tibetan regions.

Protestors hold Tibetan flags as they take part in a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against Ch...
Protestors hold Tibetan flags as they take part in a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on March 14, 2015 in Paris, France
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

A nun at the time at the Garu Nunnery north of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, she was sentenced to four years in jail for "separatist acts" -- a charge routinely levelled by Beijing at the Dalai Lama and his followers.

As political prisoners, Drolkar and her fellow protesting nuns were watched closely but they managed to borrow a tape recorder from another detainee in 1993 and boldly recorded songs denouncing prison conditions and praising the Dalai Lama, who is persona non grata in China.

The group of nuns got the tape smuggled out, and when Chinese authorities found out, they extended their jail sentences. Drolkar was given an extra eight years.

- 'I would faint' -

A protestor holds a Tibetan flag during a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on Marc...
A protestor holds a Tibetan flag during a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on March 14, 2015 in Paris, France
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

"We were victims of all sorts of torture, mental, physical," she told AFP, speaking through a translator.

"For instance, they tied me up and hung me up, covered my face, and beat me.

"They used electric instruments. I would faint, and when I came to, they would start again."

"When you suffered a lot and screamed, they put electric instruments inside your mouth because you were shouting."

Others of her fellow detained nuns had dogs set on them, she said, although that never happened to her.

Allegations of torture in Chinese prisons are widespread -- not only among Tibetan detainees but among other minorities and rights defenders -- but Beijing vigorously denies any transgressions, saying that torture is completely prohibited.

Released in 2002, Drolkar eventually left Tibet in 2004, tired of struggling as a "third-class citizen" -- not only as a Tibetan but as a former political prisoner.

Lobsang Sangay  Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile  delivers a speech during a rally ...
Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, delivers a speech during a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on March 14, 2015 in Paris, France
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

She now lives in the Belgian city of Antwerp -- a layperson now, and no longer a nun.

At the Paris march, Drolkar was one of more than 3,000 people from several European countries waving Tibetan flags and sporting banners reading "Stop cultural genocide" or "Tibet will be free."

Lobsang Sangay, the leader of Tibet's India-based exiled government, also took part in the rally.

Both the Dalai Lama and Sangay advocate greater autonomy for the Tibetan region within China, but Beijing accuses them of being separatists and wanting flat-out independence.

Gyaltsen Drolkar spent 12 years in a Chinese jail where she says she was relentlessly tortured, escaping after her release in an arduous trek across the Himalayas to Nepal and then onto Belgium where she now lives.

The former Tibetan nun was one of several thousand protesters who rallied in Paris on Saturday to mark the failed 1959 uprising against China that forced the Dalai Lama to flee into exile, and to try and put the spotlight back onto the Tibetan cause.

China’s Communist regime is accused of widespread repression of Tibetans’ religion, culture and language that has sparked an unprecedented wave of self-immolations, although Beijing categorically denies this, saying it has brought prosperity and better living conditions to an impoverished region.

“I was freed a while back now, and I’m lucky that I now live in the West, but I still have physical after-effects,” Drolkar told AFP, a Tibetan flag wrapped around her shoulders, the Eiffel Tower in the background.

The 45-year-old was arrested in 1990 for taking part in a peaceful protest calling on Chinese authorities to respect freedom of expression and religion in Tibetan regions.

Protestors hold Tibetan flags as they take part in a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against Ch...

Protestors hold Tibetan flags as they take part in a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on March 14, 2015 in Paris, France
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

A nun at the time at the Garu Nunnery north of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, she was sentenced to four years in jail for “separatist acts” — a charge routinely levelled by Beijing at the Dalai Lama and his followers.

As political prisoners, Drolkar and her fellow protesting nuns were watched closely but they managed to borrow a tape recorder from another detainee in 1993 and boldly recorded songs denouncing prison conditions and praising the Dalai Lama, who is persona non grata in China.

The group of nuns got the tape smuggled out, and when Chinese authorities found out, they extended their jail sentences. Drolkar was given an extra eight years.

– ‘I would faint’ –

A protestor holds a Tibetan flag during a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on Marc...

A protestor holds a Tibetan flag during a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on March 14, 2015 in Paris, France
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

“We were victims of all sorts of torture, mental, physical,” she told AFP, speaking through a translator.

“For instance, they tied me up and hung me up, covered my face, and beat me.

“They used electric instruments. I would faint, and when I came to, they would start again.”

“When you suffered a lot and screamed, they put electric instruments inside your mouth because you were shouting.”

Others of her fellow detained nuns had dogs set on them, she said, although that never happened to her.

Allegations of torture in Chinese prisons are widespread — not only among Tibetan detainees but among other minorities and rights defenders — but Beijing vigorously denies any transgressions, saying that torture is completely prohibited.

Released in 2002, Drolkar eventually left Tibet in 2004, tired of struggling as a “third-class citizen” — not only as a Tibetan but as a former political prisoner.

Lobsang Sangay  Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile  delivers a speech during a rally ...

Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, delivers a speech during a rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China on March 14, 2015 in Paris, France
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

She now lives in the Belgian city of Antwerp — a layperson now, and no longer a nun.

At the Paris march, Drolkar was one of more than 3,000 people from several European countries waving Tibetan flags and sporting banners reading “Stop cultural genocide” or “Tibet will be free.”

Lobsang Sangay, the leader of Tibet’s India-based exiled government, also took part in the rally.

Both the Dalai Lama and Sangay advocate greater autonomy for the Tibetan region within China, but Beijing accuses them of being separatists and wanting flat-out independence.

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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