July 17, 2006

Tibet: Gyatso School Teacher Nyima Choedron Released From Prison a Year Early

Nyima Choedron, the former teacher at a Lhasa school serving ten years in prison for 'splittism', has been released from prison a year before the end of her sentence
Nyima Choedron, the former teacher at a Lhasa school serving ten years in prison for 'splittism', has been released from prison a year before the end of her sentence, according to official confirmation given to the Dui Hua Foundation. Nyima's partner, 40-year old Bangri Rinpoche (Jigme Tenzin Nyima), who was the head-teacher at the Gyatso school they co-founded, is serving 18 years, also for 'splittism'. The couple have a seven-year old daughter, who had just been born when the couple were imprisoned.

The Dui Hua Foundation said in a statement on June 28 that in answer to a query, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had given confirmation that Nyima Choedron was released from Drapchi (Tibet Autonomous Region Prison) on February 26, 2006, after commuting the remaining one year left on her sentence. Nyima Choedron may have been the last female political prisoner to be held in Drapchi in Lhasa, although this could not be confirmed.

Ngawang Sangdrol and several other nuns who were imprisoned in Drapchi for peaceful protest remember Nyima in prison as being quiet, thoughtful and devoted to Bangri Rinpoche and their daughter.

Bangri Rinpoche and Nyima Choedron were convicted on charges of 'splittism' in September 2000 for having alleged links to an attempt by a Tibetan construction worker at the school to raise the Tibetan flag in the main square in Lhasa and to blow himself up with explosives. Bangri Rinpoche received a life sentence, later commuted to a fixed term of 19 years, and then reduced by one year.

His sentence is now due to expire on July 30, 2021. Nyima Choedron was sentenced to ten years, received a reduction in September 2002, and had an additional year cut from her original sentence in 2004 before her early release in February.

The school, which was supported by at least two charities and individual donors based in the US and UK, was closed soon after their arrests. A member of staff who was arrested and imprisoned, a nun now in her forties, has recounted how she was dragged away from the school by security police with children clinging to her legs and begging the police not to take her away. She was beaten and tortured in custody. Several staff from the Gyatso school, and relatives of the late Tashi Tsering, the Tibetan who carried out the protest in the Potala Square, were also imprisoned following the incident although they have since been released.

Although senior US officials and former foreign donors to the school were assured that the children were being cared for in other homes after the Gyatso school's closure, many of them were left to beg on the streets of Lhasa with nowhere to go.

Bangri Rinpoche, who is serving his sentence in Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) prison, Lhasa, is apparently in poor health. According to reports received by ICT, he has lost a great deal of weight and is suffering from gastro-intestinal problems. A Tibetan former political prisoner told ICT that conditions at Chushur prison, to the south-west of Lhasa, are severe: "In Drapchi you can see the sky and sometimes the mountains from the cells. But in the new prison there are smaller windows which are higher up, and the cells are more oppressive."

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