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NGO worker sentenced to life imprisonment: harsh sentences signal harder line on blocking news from Tibet

December 23, 2008

ICT report, December 22, 2008
A Tibetan who worked for an international public health NGO has been sentenced to life imprisonment and six other Tibetans to long prison terms for allegedly passing on information about the situation in Tibet, according to a report published in the Chinese press. Wangdu, a former Project Officer for an HIV/AIDS program in Lhasa run by the Australian Burnet Institute, was charged with “espionage” by the Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court. Three other Tibetans were sentenced from 10 to 15 years for “providing intelligence” to the “Dalai clique”, including two exile Tibetan NGOs named in the official report, and a second former NGO worker sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.
The sentences are unprecedented in their severity for Tibetans accused of passing on information to people outside Tibet. This new development indicates a harder line approach to blocking news on the current crackdown in Tibet, and also appears to represent a challenge to NGOs working on the plateau. The official report, published in the Lhasa Evening News in Chinese and translated below into English, also underlines Beijing’s view that the Dalai Lama was responsible for the wave of protests against Chinese rule that swept across Tibet from March onwards. Hundreds of Tibetans remain in custody following more than 125 overwhelmingly peaceful protests over a six-month period from March 10. A definitive number of prisoners is not known due to the security crackdown and the Chinese authorities’ efforts to silence Tibetans, including the warning implicit in the sentencing of Wangdu and the six other Tibetans detailed in this report.
The article in the Lhasa Evening News on November 8, translated in full into English below, reported the sentencing of seven Tibetans including former Jokhang monk and health worker Wangdu (Chinese transliteration: Wangdui). Migmar Dhondup (Chinese transliteration: Mima Dunzhu), who also worked for an NGO and is known as a passionate conservationist, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for “espionage”. Both Migmar Dhondup and Wangdu were accused of collecting “intelligence concerning the security and interests of the state and provid[ing] it to the Dalai clique…prior to and following the
‘March 14’ incident”.
The Chinese authorities blame the Dalai Lama and the exile authorities for “inciting” the protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau for several months from March 10 onwards, with exile organizations such as the Tibetan Youth Congress accused by Beijing of being explicitly involved in organizing the protests. This is despite the evidence that the overwhelmingly peaceful protests were spontaneous expressions of deeply-felt resentment against more than 50 years of Chinese rule. The Lhasa Evening News report states that the “crimes” of the four Tibetans prove that the “March 14th incident “was well
planned by the Dalai Clique and its ‘Tibetan independence’ separatist forces, and was deliberately created after they had colluded with ‘Tibetan Independence’ elements within Tibet in a well organized and pre-meditated manner.”
Phuntsog Dorjee, a former political prisoner who once worked at the Snowlands Hotel in Lhasa, was sentenced to nine years, and Tsewang Dorjee to eight years. Both were accused of working with Wangdu in order to send information outside Tibet.
The three other Tibetans named in the report were charged with crimes relating to their alleged contact and communication with exile NGOs and the Tibetan government in exile. Yeshi Choedon (Chinese transliteration: Yixi Quzhen) was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for espionage after she allegedly provided “intelligence and information harmful to the security and interests of the state to the Dalai clique’s ‘Security Department’.” Sonam Tseten (Chinese: Suolang Cidian) was sentenced to ten years “for the crime of illegally sending intelligence abroad”. The Dharamsala-based NGO Gu Chu Sum, which helps former political prisoners, was named as the recipient organization of this information. Sonam Dakpa (Chinese: Suolang Zhaba) was accused of being a member of “the Dalai clique’s ‘Tibetan Youth Congress’” and was sentenced to ten years for allegedly sending information abroad.
Since the protests broke out across Tibet on March 10, the Chinese authorities have sought to impose an information blackout and for a period of several months virtually sealed off the plateau from the outside world. Thousands of Tibetans have been detained, with extreme brutality a routine feature of their detention. Some Tibetans are profoundly psychologically disturbed upon release, with others unable to walk or speak, or with broken or dislocated limbs. There are serious fears for the welfare and safety of
Wangdu, Migmar Dhondup, and the five other prisoners now sentenced in Lhasa. Their current whereabouts is unknown.
These latest terms of imprisonment exceed other sentences imposed on Tibetans accused of communicating, or attempting to communicate, information to the outside world. Most recently, a Tibetan female cadre, Norzin Wangmo, was sentenced to five years for speaking to a friend on the phone about the situation in Tibet. Exact details of the charges are unknown. (See ICT report, “Disappearances continue across Tibet: Tibetan woman sentenced for talking on telephone,” ICT, November 19, 2008, .) In November 2007, two Tibetan men were sentenced to nine and ten years for ‘espionage’ after they were accused of attempting to pass on images and information about a protest by a Tibetan nomad, Runggye Adak. It is notable that these  prison sentences were longer than the one imposed on Runggye Adak himself, who was given an eight year term after he took to the stage at the Lithang Horse Festival, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan on August 1, 2007 and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. (Sentencing details in a report by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China,
Life imprisonment for ‘open-minded, talented’ Tibetan health worker Wangdu
Forty-one year old Wangdu, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment is a former Jokhang monk from Dechen Township, Taktse County, around 25 kilometers east of Lhasa. He previously served eight years in prison after detention on March 8, 1989, the day martial law took effect in Lhasa after three days of protest and rioting. His three-year sentence to ‘reform through labor’ was extended to eight years' imprisonment after he and 10 other political prisoners signed a petition stating that the 1951 17-Point Agreement was forced on an independent Tibet. According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, Wangdu was detained again on March 14, the day protests and rioting erupted in Lhasa after four days of various demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the March 10, 1959 Uprising.
Wangdu, who speaks fluent Chinese and once worked as a guide for Chinese tourists at the Jokhang, is still listed as a member of staff on the website of the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute, one of the leading medical research and public health Institutes in Australia. Wangdu worked on the HIV Prevention in Lhasa Project, which commenced in 2001 with AusAID and Burnet Institute funding, and aimed to develop resources to be used to educate Tibetans about HIV.
A former political prisoner who shared a cell in Tibet Autonomous Region Prison (Drapchi) and carried out labor with Wangdu in the prison’s greenhouses during his previous sentence told ICT: “During that time in prison [the early 1990s] I became very close to [Wangdu] and he started learning English with me from [another prisoner]. He is such an open-minded, talented, easy-going guy and got on really well with other prisoners while he was in Drapchi. He is very good at Tibetan literature and painting and Chinese language as well. He used to worry about the new generation in Tibet because they are losing their culture and their language, and he often criticized people for not being interested in anything other than money. The last time I saw him, when we said goodbye to each other, I was very sad.”
Migmar Dhondup, who was also arrested in connection with the March 14 protests and has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, is in his early thirties and also worked for an NGO doing community development work. He is originally from Tingri (Chinese: Dingri), in Shigatse (Chinese: Xigaze), Tibet Autonomous Region. Migmar Dhondup, who speaks fluent English and is very well educated, also used to work as a tour guide.
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