WEB CRUSADE: Site Fights for Nuns' Rights



Source: Phoenix.com


Issue Date: December 27, 2001

- January 3, 2002

In this post-September 11 world, where dissent of any kind has become unpopular, human-rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have had to choose their battles carefully. Some local chapters have dropped old fights over government abuses in Chechnya and the Sudan - two places where President George W. Bush has tried to form alliances for the war on terrorism. Others have stepped out of the public spotlight altogether. In Somerville, meanwhile, human-rights advocates have taken their crusade to cyberspace.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International Local 133, located in Somerville's Davis Square, launched a Web site focusing on China's woeful human-rights record. More specifically, it highlights the case of 14 Tibetan Buddhist nuns, the " Drapchi 14, " who've been languishing in a Chinese-run prison for years because of their political activism. The local group has long decried the Drapchi 14's brutal treatment: in 1995, it " adopted "

24-year-old Tibetan nun Gyaltsen Droker. That means activists have made Droker's case a priority, pushing for her release with Chinese officials, protesting at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, and writing letters to American politicians. The recently created Web site aims to ratchet up that activism. Says Local 133 member Carl Williams, " We figured the Internet would be the best way to engage people and encourage them to act. "

The site (http://www.drapchi14.org/) is sure to stir emotion. It offers one eye-opening article after another about the abuses suffered by these Tibetan women. Take this gut-wrenching account by one nun of the horrific conditions at the Drapchi Prison, in Northern Tibet, published in the October 6, 2000, London Telegraph: " They beat us so savagely. There was blood everywhere, on the walls and the floor. It looked like an abattoir. They beat us with their belts, until their belts broke. Then they used electric batons. Some [of us] had torn ears, others had wounds in their heads. "

Chilling stuff. The site also features 14 songs that the nuns recorded while in prison in the early 1990s. Forlorn and haunting, the songs tell tales of Tibetan independence, Chinese oppression, and nights filled with torture and rape. Tales, in other words, that might move people to act. Williams says, "

We want people to say, 'My God. Terrible things are happening. How can I help?' "

And that seems the general reaction so far. Since the site went up December 10, which happened to be Human Rights Day, as many as 15,000 people have visited. Williams has gotten hundreds of e-mails from folks from Boston to New York to San Francisco, most signing up for the cause.

Which goes to show that even in this post-September 11 world, international human-rights issues still matter. Says Williams, " I see these e-mails and I'm an optimist. I think Americans want to make the world a better place.

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