Melody in Prison:
20 October 1998
The following news story (slightly edited) was released by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), based in Dharamsala, India. TCHRD, together with the International Campaign for Tibet and the Free Tibet Campaign-UK, is a sponsor of Sonam Dekyi's tour in the United States.
Ngawang Choephel, a prisoner of conscience, was awarded the Courage of Conscience Award by Lewis Randa, Director of the Peace Abbey, on October 19 at Harvard University. The award was received by Ngawang's mother, Sonam Dekyi, who is traveling throughout America seeking support for her son's release from a Chinese prison.
The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award is presented to individuals and organisations whose commitment to the cause of peace, social justice, non-violence and the arts has served to bring about life-affirming social change. Since 1991, this award has been made to outstanding figures such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou, Harry Wu, Mohammed Ali, Thich Nhat Hanh and others.
"This award is presented to Ngawang Choephel for his courage in returning to Tibet to preserve the history and diversity of the Tibetan oral tradition in music and dance," stated Mr. Randa.
Mr. Randa continued: "11,000 people cross by the statue every day and will notice the tragedy of Ngawang Choephel and, accordingly, will be requested to express their support for his release. Also, all the previous recipients of the Award would be requested to send letters to the Chinese government on Ngawang Choephel's behalf."
During the ceremony, Sonam Dekyi said, "I am very honoured to receive this award on behalf of my son, who is imprisoned in Tibet. I shall keep and cherish this award until his release. Until then, I ask you to join me in campaigning for his unconditional release."
Sonam Dekyi and Tsering Norzom, representing the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, are currently in the United States campaigning for the release of Ngawang Choephel, who was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment by the Government of China on a false charge of espionage activities. Choephel willingly put his personal freedom at risk to return to his native land to make a documentary film that would preserve the oral tradition of music and dance of Tibet. He has been imprisoned in Nyari Detention Centre since September 1995.
After the award, a vigil in support of Ngawang Choephel's release was organised by Amnesty International and Students for Free Tibet. In her address to the gathering, Tsering Norzom called for continued support for Sonam Dekyi's dauntless struggle to release her imprisoned son.
Wendy Cook, a friend of Choephel, said, "I knew Ngawang for many years and he was very calm and silent person who had great devotion for music and dance. He was never involved in any political activity." While addressing the gathering, a representative from Amnesty International said, "Ngawang was innocent and yet given a sentence of 18 years. We will all work for his release."
Children of the Life Experience School make a noble gesture
The Children of Life Experience School in Boston made a generous gesture by presenting round-trip air tickets to Ngawang Choephel and Sonam Dekyi during a peace ceremony held in Peace Abbey on the morning of October 20 to honor Ngawang. The ceremony included the placing of handcuffs on the left wrist of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi that resides on the grounds of the Life Experience School. On the handcuffs was imprinted a short message about the Ngawang's plight. The symbolic handcuffs would be taken off the day he is released from his detention. Upon his release, Ngawang is scheduled to come to the school from India to remove the symbolic handcuffs and teach a class in Tibetan music and dance for the children.
Sonam Dekyi on receiving the honor said, "I am very touched and moved by this display of support and love for my son and I hope that I will be able to see him soon with the continued help that is being offered by the school."
While speaking on behalf of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy at the ceremony, Tsering Norzom thanked the Peace Abbey and the school for honouring Ngawang with the Courage of Conscience Award. She hoped that this award will send a message to China and enlighten them in realising that every human being deserves fundamental freedom and human dignity.