Tibetan prisoner Ngawang Choephel released

Monday, 21 January 2002

Tibetan political prisoner, Ngawang Choephel, released on medical parole prior to summit
Ngawang Choephel, the Tibetan ethnomusicologist serving an 18 year sentence in a Chinese jail for "espionage", arrived in the United States yesterday, released on medical parole just weeks before the summit in China between Presidents George W Bush and Jiang Zemin (February 21 and 22). Other high profile political prisoners in China, such as Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan, have been granted early release prior to previous summits, but this is the first time a Tibetan political prisoner has benefited from China's desire to make a good impression before an important summit. This outcome is a testament to the hard work of campaigners around the world, who kept Ngawang Choephel's case in the public eye and demanded that their governments press for his release.

"We are delighted at Ngawang Choephel's release." said Alison Reynolds, Director of Free Tibet Campaign, "We and campaigners around the world must share credit for keeping Ngawang Choephel in the public eye, so that China would come to recognise that his release was politically expedient. However, the human rights situation in Tibet continues to deteriorate, and the international community must press China to give Tibetans the right to decide their own future."

Free Tibet Campaign has called on President Bush to adhere to the promise he made to the Dalai Lama last May, when he "declared his strong support for the Dalai Lama's tireless efforts to initiate dialogue with the Chinese government." (Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, May 2001). Free Tibet Campaign believes it would reflect well on President Bush to actively promote a peaceful resolution to the fifty one-year old occupation of Tibet.

Ngawang Choephel has been officially released to India, through the auspices of the US State Department. He arrived in Detroit yesterday. His mother, Sonam Deckyi, campaigned tirelessly on behalf of her son, and was granted permission to visit him in prison in Chengdu last year when she described him as "skin and bone". In 1998, Mrs Deckyi came to the UK and met government officials and supporters of Ngawang Choephel, including Annie Lennox, who has been acting as a campaign ambassador for his case, and Sir Paul McCartney.

Ngawang Choephel has been suffering from bronchitis and hepatitis for a number of years. An exile who had studied in the United States, he had been travelling in Tibet making recordings and taking video footage of traditional music and dance when he was detained in Shigatse in September 1995. Hours of video footage which he had given to a friend to take to Nepal for safe keeping yielded nothing that supported Chinese claims that he was spying.

For more information contact: Alison Reynolds, 020 7833 9958, Mobile 07711 843 884

Background history on Ngawang Choephel

Urgent campaign calling for Ngawang Choephel's release