Tibetan Women in Jail

"We demonstrate with our bare hands as we are fighting for the truth. If we have truth on our side, we don't need any weapon." One of the Gari 14

On March 12, 1994 the International Year of Tibetan Women was inaugurated in Dharamsala, India, home of the Tibetan government in exile. The Year will last until March 12, 1995, and is dedicated to finding nonviolent solutions to the problems women inside Tibet and in exile face.

The Year honors the 35th anniversary of the women's uprising against China's occupation of Tibet. On March 12, 1959, over 15,000 women marched through Lhasa to demand the withdrawal of Chinese troops and to appeal for support from foreign consulates in the Tibetan capital. Tibetan solidarity groups estimates that thousands of women died or were imprisoned in the ensuing Chinese attempt to stop the uprising. Despite the repression women, and especially Buddhist nuns, have remained at the forefront of the nonviolent Tibetan independence movement. Forty-nine of the 120 known independence protests inside Tibet since 1987 have been led by nuns.

There were approximately 700 nunneries, and 27,000 nuns, in Tibet before the occupation: almost all the nunneries have since been razed, and most of the nuns killed, imprisoned or expelled. Many nuns were expelled for performing religious acts with nationalist overtones, such as throwing barley into the air or singing certain songs. Expelled nuns are forbidden from wearing monastic robes and performing religious ceremonies. They cannot leave their village without a local government travel permit.

The Gari 14

Some 200 nuns are associated with Gari, a surviving nunnery outside Lhasa. Gari, like other monasteries and nunneries in Tibet, has seen an increase in restrictive government control since 1987. Finances, curriculum and enrollment are all overseen by the government; young women who wish to become nuns may be publicly humiliated by Chinese authorities in an attempt to dissuade them.

Some 50 nuns from Gari, or about a quarter of the nunnery, are in prison. Among the more recent prisoners from Gari are Ngawang Yangkyi and Gyaltsen Tsultrim, both 22. They were arrested in June 1993 for starting a pro-independence demonstration in Lhasa. Ten days later 12 other nuns--the youngest 15-years-old--were arrested for allegedly taking part in another independence demonstration. According to the Canada Tibet Committee, the Gari nuns have been "subjected to intense scrutiny and 'reeducation campaigns,' the result of increased surveillance of suspected dissidents by the Chinese Public Security Bureau.

According to Amnesty International, the torture of Tibetans in detention is endemic. \tibetan women in detention are routinely tortured and subjected to sexual violence. This, and the forced labor in prison and the lack of proper medical care, often leaves the women unable to continue their life as nuns. Their suffering has been increased by a new Chinese regulation banning nuns who have been arrested from returning to their nunnery.

WRITE asking for the immediate and unconditional release of the Gari nuns and all Tibetan prisoners of conscience if they have not been given fair trials in accordance with international standards, including access to lawyers of their choice: Minister Jia Chunwang, Ministry of State Security, Jia Chungwang Anquanbuzhang, 14 Dongchang'anlu, Dongchenqu, Beijingshi 100741, People's Republic of China.

CONTACT the Tibetan Women's Association, McLeodganj, Dharamsala, HP, India. fax +91 1892 4213; email: twa@cta.unv.ernet.in, to see in what other ways you can help.