Story of Ngawang Sangdrol la, Tibetan female political prisoner who spent 11 years in the Drapchi Prison

Before the era of Twitter and Facebook, political prisoners such as Ngawang Sangdrol-la recorded songs on tape cassettes to document the inhumane treatment they experienced in the Drapchi prison of China. 

Sangdrol-la (la is used after an elder’s name as a title of respect) shared her story at Amnesty International’s office in San Francisco during her first visit to the Bay Area last week on the eve of the National Tibetan Uprising Day.

Sangdrol- la at age 13

She told the audience that she was only 13 in 1990 when she decided to join 20 other protesters in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in a demonstration aimed at expressing opposition to the oppression she felt under the Chinese government. She and the other protesters had joined together to express their desire for a free Tibet.She remembers the day vividly still, walking through the streets of Lhasa shouting “Free Tibet” and “Long live His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.”The protesters knew they couldn’t be in a group together and decided to spread out individually, shouting and singing their message.

“We knew we would be caught. We had no desire to run or escape. Our plan was to shout until they (the Chinese police) caught us,” she said. And they did, she said, recalling how Chinese army officials pinned her to the ground and then dragged her away from the crowd.

“I remember people saying, ‘She’s so young, please let her go, she’s bleeding,’ ” said Sangdrol-la. She had violated an official Chinese governmental policy banning all pictures of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan flag.Sangdrol-la said she did not receive a fair trial and was sent to a detention center for nine months. Still, prison was better than the fate of her brother, she said. Chinese police shot him dead when he, too, was 13.When she was very little, she used to watch movies made in China, depicting the Chinese army as “kindhearted soldiers,” fighting against the Japanese Army to protect the mother country.

“I remember feeling like the Chinese are our own people because the TV made me think I was no different. I disliked the Japanese because in the movies they were the bad soldiers who killed the kindhearted Chinese soldiers,” Sangdrol-la recalled. But “father yelled at me and told me the real story of my country, and what had happened to my brother.”

She said that she suffered terrible interrogations, was beaten and tortured in prison, kept hungry and in solitary confinement because she would not denounce the Dalai Lama. She told the audience about the terror of shock treatments she received.”One day the authorities brought a strange object that looked like a telephone. It was actually an electric prod,” she said. The officer asked her if she wanted to call home and when she said her home didn’t have a telephone, she said the officer said he would install one.”Then he put the object in my shirt and turned it on. My entire body shook in a way I couldn’t control. That was my first electric shock, but not the last.”She was arrested again in 1992 during a similar protest and sentenced to three years in prison, but her sentence was increased to 13 years because she would not renounce her beliefs.The prison did not allow family members to visit very often but through surreptitious means, Sangdrol-la and another inmate were able to get their hands on the cassettes and began recording songs to smuggle outside of the prison.

“We recorded freedom songs to tell our loved once that we were OK and even though the conditions were horrible in prison, we still had hope and we were not going to give up,” said Sangdrol-la. “We never thought it would actually reach the outside world like this.”

In 2002, she was released to the U.S. government. She was in critical health and, upon arrival in America, was taken to a hospital in Chicago.Yangchen Lhamo, a member of the Students for a Free Tibet, part of the S.F. Team Tibet coalition, which co-organized the event, said she has heard this story before but “it never gets any less disturbing.””I now live in freedom. But, everyday, I worry about those thousands of Tibetans who are still suffering today, right at this minute, for doing nothing more than a peaceful protest,” said Sangdrol-la.

“The Tibetans in Tibet are waiting and they will remember!”

Tibetans all over the world are feeling the after math of the earth quake right now.

A Newsweek article titled “A Sympathetic Hearing” written by Isacc Stone Fish in Newsweek today reported the following statement “This week’s earthquake—and footage of the devastation—is allowing the average Chinese to see both the poverty and humanity of a region they’re used to seeing only in political terms. “It’s very hard to see real Tibetans” through the media, says Yang. “On TV, they’re dancing all the time, shaking hands with leaders, celebrating, or shown as troublemakers. This is an opportunity to realize that Tibetans live and suffer like we do.” In addition, the sensitivity about minority issues—especially Tibetan ones—in China has choked off civic opportunities for Tibetan-Chinese connections. The earthquake is bringing “unprecedented” Chinese-Tibetan grassroots understanding, “and this could be a very good thing,” says Yang.”

Below is a comment posted by SopheapAng on NewsWeek’s article :

I really wonder how this writer Issac Smelly Fish who was employed to bad-mouth China for a living and those despicable so-called exiled Tibetans would use such a natural disaster to bad-mouth China. One thing I want to ask these disgusting and despicable people is this: Where is your help?

The Tibetans in exile needs to answer this question. We need to tackle it head- on and communicate to the rest of the world and SHOW them that we are helping. The Tibetan associations around the world should fund-raise money, donate money, and support the Tibetans in Tibet. Most of the Tibetans in exile have already donated money, but have failed to reach the masses to announce that Tibet is at our top priority and we are helping our people.

Here is comment by TenzinZ on the same article:

I hope China will help rebuild this region and give the Tibetans greater opportunity and freedom, maybe it’ll be a start for us Tibetans and Chinese to gain a better mutual understanding. Also, I hope international community will donate as they have so generously done in Haiti -because the Tibetan people need your help so desperately. Please consider giving to Tibetan charities as the funds will go directly to those affected by the earthquake as opposed to other infrastructure development or get lost somewhere! I know we Tibetans have a resilient spirit, may we continue to believe in hope.

It is wonderful to see that the Chinese government are aiding the Tibetans during this devastating tragedy.

The Wall Street Journal reported “China’s leaders took a high-profile, hands-on approach to dealing with the disaster that struck one of the country’s most troubled ethnic-minority areas… and quoted Wian Jia Bao saying “We will make all-out efforts to build a new Yushu,” Mr. Wen, a member of China’s majority Han ethnic group, promised residents Friday, according to state media. “Whether you are Tibetan or Han, we are all from one family and we need to take care of each other.. Your suffering is our suffering,” Mr. Wen told townspeople in Jiegu, where most residents are Tibetan.

One would hope that Mr Wen’s words are genuine and heart felt to the current situation of Tibetans in Jyekundho, Tibet.

In fact, if one accessed the statement correctly, the message behind the “one unity mantra” carries precisely the same universal message that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been stating for over 51 years. We are all the same, and our suffering is your, suffering. In fact His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s statement  at the TIBETAN-CHINESE CONFERENCE IN GENEVA ON AUGUST 6, 2009 read the following statement “I request your help in carrying a message to the Chinese people that we Tibetans harbor no hatred against our Chinese brothers and sisters, and that we Tibetans are neither anti-Chinese nor anti-China. I seek your help and cooperation in preventing the issue of Tibet being turned into an issue of racial prejudice and antagonism between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.”

When such natural disasters hit the poorest countries of the world, one thing is for certain; people react!

We can raise funds, individually, or with our community or even with our co-workers or even online. We can raise funds, we have seen it done before and we know it is possible.  Here are some ways in which Tibetans in exile can help the Tibetans in Tibet and let the know that we are thinking of them!

Write an email to your local businesses, foundations, friends, family members and co-workers. ASK FOR DONATION! It might be $5 from your neighbor and $5 from your friend, but if one person from the community gets even $100 and contribute to an association or a network of Tibetans, they will know.

Twitter, Facebook, youtube, etc- all social networks which carry thousands of friends, strangers, supporters and PEOPLE- make an URGENT call and ALERT THEM!

It is my personal belief that a community donating together will make a bigger effect on the Tibetans inside Tibet. Announce it on your association’s website, blog that you are doing a fundraising drive for the recent quake that hit Tibet. Once we have the money, we need to advertise, YES i said advertise- Let the whole world know, we are in support!

We cannot stop these natural disasters from occurring it seems, but it is definite that we can do something to help in the aftermath of such events to assist the vicitims and help them survive.

Kennedy once said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.. . Perhaps it is my own fear….  I fear that the Tibetans in Tibet will remember if we don’t come through for them now. One thing is for sure, we need to reach them and let them know, we are helping, we are definitely helping and trying our best.

I was informed today that four NGO’s based in the US – working in Tibet have networked together and formed a FUND for the Tibet Relief Fund which is provided by the SSG.

Update from Program Director of SSG: Snowland Services Group (SSG) is the best known Tibetan NGO in the earthquake area and is likely to lead many local NGO efforts there.  It is difficult to assess the situation: around 80% of building houses have collapsed, the water dam has been damaged, people are afraid that it might collapse and flood the city. Most people moved to the house festival ground this evening where some tents have been installed. SSG is trying to organize emergency services: water, food, medicine, tents, clothes and beddings. Our cashier who was seven month pregnant has died. It is hard to assess the number of persons who died. SSG believes it is much more probably above 3000. One important issue is that people have stopped rescue after a couple of hours, due to lack of hope and equipment. I still need time to asses to situation as today we have mainly been trying to find survivors….people fear that another earthquake might occur this evening. The needs are huge… The situation , here is critical.”

You can donate to feed, shelter and supply food and medical aide to the victims of this earth quake by donating to the following organizations. 100% of the donation goes directly to the Tibetans in Tibet.

Please visit the following sites to donate!

  • Yushu Earthquake Response
  • Tibet Village Project
  • Tibet Relief Fund
  • Machik
  • Tibet Foundation
  • If you cannot donate, then please send this letter to all your friends, co-workers and family members.

    Also Visit Students for Free Tibet’s blog to find other ways to make a difference during this devastating time!

    MORE WAYS YOU CAN HELP – Students for a Free Tibet


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