BEIJING -- Days before a U.S.-China presidential summit, Chinese authorities have paroled a Tibetan nun thought to be one of the youngest and longest-serving female political prisoners in China, according to a U.S. human rights campaigner.
Ngawang Sangdrol was granted parole by a Tibetan court that said she was released nine years early because of good behavior, according to John Kamm, director of the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation. She left Drapchi Prison in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and has rejoined her family, Kamm said Thursday.
The case has not been mentioned in the Chinese press, and there has been no official comment on her release.
Ngawang Sangdrol was a member of a group of 14 female Tibetan prisoners dubbed the "singing nuns" by human rights and Tibetan independence groups that campaigned for her release.
She was born in 1977 into a family of eight children; her father and brother also have been detained for pro-independence activism. According to human rights groups, she was arrested in 1992 at the age of 15 after participating in pro-independence protests along with others from the Garu Nunnery, north of the capital. She was sentenced to three years for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement." (The crimes were dropped from China's criminal code in 1997.)
A year later, Ngawang Sangdrol and 13 other women in Drapchi prison recorded songs protesting their treatment, calling for Tibetan independence and praising Tibet's exiled religious leader, the Dalai Lama. "May no others suffer like this/In the heavenly realm, the land of snows," said one song on the tape smuggled out of Drapchi.
Prison authorities considered Ngawang Sangdrol the ringleader of the protests and singled her out for severe beatings, rights groups allege, citing testimony from former Drapchi prisoners. Her sentence was extended by six years.
In 1996, Ngawang Sangdrol was involved in prison protests against Beijing's selection of the 11th Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second-highest cleric. Authorities put her in solitary confinement and extended her sentence by eight more years. More protests earned her another extension, with a release date of May 3, 2013.
President Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and several U.S. lawmakers have raised Ngawang Sangdrol's case with Beijing. Last year, Tibetan authorities said she had shown repentance, reduced her sentence by 18 months and exempted her from hard labor.
Five of the other "singing nuns" have been released or had their sentences reduced. Kamm said China has released nine out of 18 Tibetan prisoners cited by the State Department in meetings with Chinese officials last year in Washington.
Besides releasing prisoners, Chinese authorities this year have allowed envoys of the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet, the first such trip since 1985. They have also hosted visits to Tibet by U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt Jr., U.S. congressional staffers and foreign journalists.
Citing those actions, Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, last month urged Tibetans and their supporters to refrain from protesting Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to the United States next week.