Ngawang Sangdrol (layname Rigchog) was born in Lhasa in 1977, and later joined Garu Nunnery (5 kilometres north of Lhasa). At the age of ten years, she was detained for fifteen days, for participating in a demonstration.
On 28 August 1990, aged thirteen, she was arrested for her participation in a demonstration led by nuns in the Norbulingka (the former summer palace of the Dalai Lama) in Lhasa. While considered too young to be tried, she was detained for nine months and subjected to ill-treatment.
Upon her release, Ngawang Sangdrol was forbidden from rejoining her nunnery due to her status as a former political prisoner. On 12 June 1991, her father Namgyal Tashi was arrested for participating in demonstrations and sentenced to eight years in Drapchi Prison. Shortly after his imprisonment her mother, Jampa Choezom, died, reputedly from heart problems. Ngawang’s brother, a monk named Tenzin Sherap, also received a twelve month prison sentence for political reasons. After his release he was forbidden to rejoin his monastery.
On 17 June 1992, Ngawang Sangdrol was again arrested for attempting to stage a pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa along with other Garu nuns and some monks from Gaden monastery. Inspite of her youth, she was sentenced to three years imprisonment “for incitement to subversive and separatist activities”. Reports from Tibetans in exile indicate that she suffered various forms of torture including deprivation of water for long periods. One source says that she would try to catch rainwater in a mug by holding it outside her cell window, but that she was too small to reach beyond the bars.
In 1993, Ngawang Sangdrol and thirteen other nuns made a recording on a tape-recorder that had been smuggled into the Drapchi prison. The recording was later secretly circulated in Tibet. On the tape, the nuns announced their names and dedicated songs or poems to friends and supporters. The fourteen nuns were tried on 8 October 1993, and Ngawang Sangdrol had her sentence extended for six years for “spreading counter-revolutionary propaganda”. Their songs seem to have taken on a life of their own.
In 1996, Ngawang Sangdrol’s sentence was extended the second time, for another eight or nine years. A former prisoner who knew her described the incidents leading to her trail. Ngawang Sangdrol was amongst a number of female prisoners who refused to tidy their beds or clean their cells, apparently in protest against the Panchen Lama re-education campaign being conducted in the prison. It was reported that Ngawang Sangdrol, on one occasion, did not stand up when a Chinese official entered the room. As punishment for failing to clean their cells, the women were sent to stand in the rain, at which time Ngawang Sangdrol shouted “Free Tibet”. Soldiers were immediately called, and she and three other nuns were badly beaten.Since then, according to the source, Ngawang Sangdrol has been singled out for severe punishment. Her condition had deteriorated due to severe torture, and her right leg has been seriously injured. In the months preceding her trial in July 1996, she was fed only one plain dumpling or bun per day and was manifesting signs of severe malnourishment.
Until 1998, Ngawang Sangdrol and her father Namgyal Tashi were able to visit each other regularly.
On May 1 and May 4 1998, both criminal and political prisoners in Drapchi prison shouted slogans in support of the Dalai Lama and of Tibetan independence during meetings at the prison to mark the visit of a European Union “troika” delegation. These incidents later came to be called the “Drapchi prison protests”. They were followed by severe beatings, solitary confinement of “leaders” of the protest (including Ngawang Sangdrol), and suspension of visits and gifts. Ngawang Sangdrol’s sentence was extended a third time in 1998. Her official release date was then given as 2013. Her sentences added up to 21 years, all for peacful political protest.
After his release from prison in June 1999 and once visiting rights were restored to Drapchi’s political prisoners, Namgyal Tashi endeavoured to visit Ngawang Sangdrol regularly. Namgyal Tashi died in September 1999.
On October 16th 2002 the Chinese Government paroled Ngawang Sandrol from prison, after she had served ten years, for “good behavior.” On March 28, 2003 Ngawang Sandrol arrived in the United States for medical treatment.
According to Amnesty International, Ngawang Sandrol’s imprisonment and ill treatment violate Articles 5 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 prohibits torture, while Article 18 guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Ngawang Sangdrol page of the Amnesty International Local Group #489, Tempe, Arizona, who adopted her as their “prisoner of conscience” (the biography ends before her release).
Australia Tibet Council, background information at the occasion of Ngawang Sangdrol’s release.
Namgyal Tashi obituary (Tibet Information Network)
Tibet Information Network report on the occasion of Ngawang Sangdrol’s third sentence-extension.
Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, a Dharamsala-based NGO. Their photo gallery of political prisoners, classified into “current”, “released”, and “dead or missing”.