China jailed two Tibetan girls for three years over calling for return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet

Former Tibetan political prisoner Namkyi in Dharamshala, On April 19, 2024. Photo: TPI

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Dharamshala — Chinese authorities sentenced two young Tibetan girls to three years in prison for demanding "a free Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kirti Rinpoche to Tibet". After three years in prison, she was able to escape to a free country. She described her suffering, the torture and overwork in the labour camps during her imprisonment, which made her physically and mentally ill even after her release.

A young Tibetan woman named Namkyi escaped to India in 2023 to tell the truth about Tibet, the lack of freedom of religion and human rights in Tibet, to the United Nations and the international community. She and her sister Tsering Kyi held a press conference with the support of the Department of Information and International Relations of the Central Tibetan Administration on April 19, 2024, Lhakpa Tsering Hall, Gangkyi, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India.

Namkyi said," My name is Namkyi, and I was born to a typical nomadic family of Pema Lhathang in Charo village, Ngaba County, Tibet. Like many other nomadic children, I did not have the opportunity to go to school and spent my childhood as a nomad. I grew up hearing about the recent history of Tibet from my parents and elders: “Red China” forcibly occupied Tibet and killed thousands of Tibetans, which led the spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Eminence Kirti Rinpoche, and other great personalities take refuge in exile, and I felt immense sadness. I prayed that Tibet would be free one day and that I would see the spiritual leader in person and hear his teachings. Tibetan martyrs, of all ages and genders, attempt to conduct activities for preserving and improving our religion, culture, and language.

"Therefore, since September 2015, my sister Tenzin Dolma, who is my blood relative, and we have had secret discussions on several occasions while herding cattle. On October 21, 2015, at 3pm local time, we both wore Tibetan attire(Chupa), held two large portraits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in our hands and marched through the crowds on "martyr roads" of Ngaba County, Eastern Tibet, calling for "free Tibet, long life to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kirti Rinpoche, and let them to return to Tibet". At the time, I was 15 years old and Tenzin Dolma 16 years old.

"No more than 10 minutes into our march, we heard a loud noise, and suddenly, four or five police officers came out from behind us and snatched the portraits from our hands. We did not let it go from our hands and spent half an hour as we pulled back and forth with the police. Finally, the Police dragged us down the road and told us to be silent and not to shout out. But we shouted our slogans continuously. They handcuffed our hands behind our backs, put us into the police van, and took us away to the detention center of Ngaba County. Then, they took us to another detention center in Barkam city. We were interrogated in a small interrogation room where the heater was switched on with excessive heat for six days and nights. Different interrogators asked various questions such as who incited us to instigate the protest, who started the discussion, where we got the portraits of the Dalai Lama and had any acquaintances from outside. They told us that we should be grateful to the nation (China), instead of protesting against China, then I told them that why I should be grateful to the nation, because I raised up by my parents and not by the nation, so they got angry and beat me by kicking me and slapping my face.

"They asked and told me that, why we were protesting at such a young age, even if we are suffering here, the Dalai Lama knows nothing about it. I told them that I had protested on my own initiative and that no one had told me to do so, that we, all Tibetans, want His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kirti Rinpoche to return home (Tibet), we all need freedom. The interrogators slapped and kicked us repeatedly, saying that we were dissidents, and we should know what a terrible crime it is. Oftentimes, we thought it would be better to die soon while we were denied food and sleep. On other days, the interrogators acted smoothly and told us that if we told the truth, the punishment would be reduced and released soon. Despite mental and physical torture, we only responded that we both freely decided to instigate the protest, and no one incited us, and also our family members knew nothing about it. We served for seven months in the detention center of TashiGyalkaling County.

"On November 23, 2016, after our detention period had lasted for one year and one month, the court of Trochu County called my sister and me to the courtroom and were put on trial. That day, we both saw each other for the first time since our arrest. There was no single family member to be seen in the courtroom, but two government-appointed lawyers were there: a Chinese woman and a Tibetan woman. We were sentenced to three years each on trumped-up charges of undertaking "separatist acts against the nation" and supporting "the Dalai clique." At that time I was 16 years old, Tenzin Dolma was 17 years old and minors, but they sentenced us falsely making us as 18 years old.

"Following the sentence, we were taken to an ethnic minority prison of Sichuan and then after almost three hours, we were taken to the largest women’s prison in Chengdu city. We heard that two other Tibetan women were put in this prison in the past, but there were only two Tibetans out of 6000 prisoners when we were there. For the first three months, it was required to receive military training, ‘patriotic education,’ and learn the Chinese constitution. We had to undergo an oral test after studying numerous documents in Chinese and training for daily activities as a prisoner. After three months, I worked in a labor camp where copper wires were produced, and my sister made cigarette boxes at first, and then we shifted to a wristwatch manufacturing camp. Later, we learned that our family had sent us food and clothes to the prison, but we couldn’t receive anything. We faced problems due to malnutrition, cold in thin blankets during winter, and discrimination against nationalities. We also faced language problems initially because we didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese.

"The food in the prison is very limited and not nutritious, they don't give food on time, even though we work hard, which makes me so hungry. Once a week there is meat (pork) in the food, but all the good meat is eaten by the prison staff and the pork skin and leftovers are given to us (prisoners), the food in the prison lacks nutrition and is only given twice a day. they give us watery porridge every morning and I never feel full from the prison food, my parents brought me nutritious food and clothes, but the prison never gives me any of them.

"On October 21, 2018, we were released from prison after completing the prison term and kept at the police station of Pema Lhathang in Ngaba County for a week as concerned authorities called upon our family to write a promise letter for our release. My family was put on a blacklist because my elder brother was also in prison. Despite our release, our expressions and movement were severely restricted, putting anyone we were in contact with at risk. The Chinese government made trouble for my family members and relatives. My cousin sister Tsering Kyi was summoned to be interrogated several times. We had significant concerns while wondering if the United Nations and other foreign governments know the truth of our tragic daily situations and torments of Tibetan people inside Tibet. Therefore, I started my journey of escape with my cousin Tsering Kyi without telling anyone and we reached the reception center in Dharamshala on June 28, 2024, to the world about the truth of Tibet."