Tibetan nuns cross Himalayas to testify to Chinese torture: Women's ordeal presents a challenge to Clinton as he considers whether to renew trade deal with Peking

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The Independent Online
WEARING canvas shoes and wrapped in blankets, four Buddhist nuns have made a terrifying 17-day trek across the Himalayas to tell of tortures and beatings in Chinese prisons in Tibet.

Their story, flatly contradicting Chinese claims of improved respect for Tibetan rights, comes as President Bill Clinton ponders whether to renew Peking's favoured trading status. The White House has said that China's record in Tibet will be one of the main factors in the decision.

The nuns, interviewed at the Dalai Lama's headquarters in the Himalayan foothills, said they travelled at night in sub-zero temperatures to avoid capture by Chinese border guards. They took a secret smuggler's route over a 20,000ft pass near Mount Everest.

Often they were forced to go without fire or food. They slept on rock and snow. For two days, their path disappeared completely and they were forced to walk through an icy stream. At other times they balanced along narrow ledges, where a slip would have plunged them to certain death in ravines thousands of feet below.

But they said their journey was not as harrowing as life inside Gutsa and Drapchi, two notorious prisons run by the Chinese near Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. Their 'crimes', they said, were crying out 'Long live the Dalai Lama' and 'Free Tibet' in public.

Two of the nuns, Ngawang Kyizom, 22, and Tenzin Choekyi, 24, said they were shocked repeatedly with an electric cattle prod applied to their breasts, thighs and tongues. During interrogation, Choekyi also had her thumbs tied diagonally behind her back, in a torture known as the 'flying aeroplane', and was dangled from the ceiling while the Chinese guards pummelled her.

Robbie Barnett, of the Tibet Information Network in London, said: 'We have many accounts of torture from 1988 and 1989, when there was a wave of unrest in Tibet. The Chinese were supposed to have changed their policy late in 1989, but what these nuns' accounts show is that torture has continued since then.

'Many of the protest demonstrations against the Chinese are led by nuns.'

Escape from Tibet, page 7

(Photograph and map omitted)