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Fears for three environmentalist brothers as 'gaunt' Karma Samdrup on trial after torture

June 25, 2010

ICT Report
June 24, 2010

There are fears for the safety of a leading
Tibetan environmentalist and philanthropist,
Karma Samdrup, his two brothers, two cousins,
other relatives and supporters in a major case in
which prominent Tibetans have been targeted and
imprisoned despite no evidence of political
activities. The three brothers, who are now all
in custody and facing charges, had been regarded
as model citizens and previously acclaimed in the
Chinese state-run media for their environmental and cultural work.

Karma Samdrup, a 42-year old businessman,
well-known collector of Tibetan art and founder
of the award-winning Three Rivers Environmental
Protection Group, appeared in court yesterday in
Xinjiang. He was detained following unsuccessful
efforts to secure the release of his two
brothers, Chime Namgyal and Rinchen Samdrup, who
were imprisoned on August 7 2009 after their
efforts to conserve wildlife in their home area
of Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) Prefecture in the
Tibet Autonomous Region clashed with the local
authorities, according to reports from Tibetans.

Karma Samdrup's wife and lawyer told the
Associated Press (AP, June 22, 2010), that he had
appeared in court in Yanqi County, Xinjiang,
looking "gaunt and shrunken" during Tuesday's
opening session. They also said that he told the
court that during months of interrogation,
officers beat him, deprived him of sleep for days
on end, and drugged him with a substance that made his eyes and ears bleed.

In a remarkable blog written after her attendance
at the trial and posted online today, Karma
Samdrup's wife Dolkar Tso [Chinese
transliteration: Zhengga Cuo] wrote: "[When
speaking in court he] paused for a while, 'Today
my friends and relatives are here, and there is
probably a lot I shouldn't say.' The account we
heard afterwards exceeded our worst imaginations,
we heard about hundreds of different cruel
torture methods, maltreatment around the clock,
hitherto unheard of torture instruments and
drugs, hard and soft tactics, and even of fellow
prisoners being grouped together to extract a
confession. If he did not reveal certain details
he would be mentally tormented. If he wanted to
eat or go to the toilet he had to write an 'IOU',
an 'IOU' which has already amounted to 660,000
RMB ($ 96,864). The 'purchased' food would first
be crushed by people using their feet, there
would be beatings for no reason, this was common
and occurred too many times to count. He said in
a sad voice that he had already prepared for
death and he had written a letter to tell his
relatives what to do. Two elderly interpreters
had red eyes and started crying bitterly." The
blogpost, entitled "Praying" is translated from
the Chinese by the website High Peaks Pure Earth, Karma
Samdrup's mother 'beaten unconscious' during detention of brothers

As concerns about the three brothers' situation
increased in the context of an intense security
crackdown in Tibet, new information has reached
ICT about other Tibetans linked to the case.
Their cousin, Sonam Choephel, has been sentenced
to one and a half years of re-education through
labor (RTL) for petitioning in December last year
in Beijing against the detention of Rinchen and
Chime. Twenty villagers from Gonjo (Chinese:
Gongjue) in Chamdo, the brothers' home area, were
detained in Chamdo, interrogated and tortured for
40 days after they went to Beijing to petition against the brothers' detention.

The whereabouts of another cousin, a monk called
Rinchen Dorje, following his detention by police
in March, is unclear. Rinchen Dorje, a Tibetan
Buddhist monk who speaks Chinese, had acted as
Karma Samdrup's interpreter in 1998 when he was
purchasing antiques in Xinjiang. He is believed
to have been detained in March this year and
taken to Xinjiang initially. He was then taken by
the authorities to the Tibet Autonomous Region
(TAR) after an alleged escape attempt, according
to Tibetan sources in contact with people in the
area. When his relatives tried to find him in the
TAR, they were unable to locate him within the
prison or the justice system there.

Karma Samdrup's mother, who is in her seventies,
was beaten unconscious by police led by an Party
official from Chamdo prefecture called Chen Yue
during the raid in which Rinchen Samdrup and
Chime Namgyal were being taken into custody from
the family home in August, 2009.

Rinchen Samdrup's trial 'postponed'

Rinchen Samdrup, 44, Karma Samdrup's older
brother, was originally due to go on trial on
Thursday in Chamdo on a "state security" offence
but the trial was abruptly cancelled, according
to Chinese lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who is representing Karma Samdrup.

Rinchen Samdrup was detained from his home with
his younger brother Chime Namgyal, after they
accused local officials in their home area of
poaching endangered species. There are fears that
Rinchen Samdrup will receive a long sentence.
Since his detention in August, 2009, he has been
detained in the Chamdo Detention Center.
According to Tibetan and Chinese sources familiar
with the case, when his family enquired about his
whereabouts last month, the court responded that
his case had been already submitted to the courts
in Lhasa. When his Beijing-based lawyer, Xia Jun,
then traveled to Lhasa from Beijing to ask about
the case, he was told by the Lhasa courts that
they had not received any details.

Two articles in People's Daily and Beijing Youth
News profile Rinchen Samdrup for winning awards
for his environmental conservation work from the
Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environment
Protection Grants
Both of these articles were published even while
Rinchen Samdrup was in detention. An acclaimed
book by the leading environmental journalist Liu
Jianqing profiled the work and life of both Karma
Samdrup and Rinchen, the most recent being
Tianzhu, "Heavenly Beads", published by the TAR
government's own printing house in Lhasa last
year. Karma and Rinchen's environmental
organization also won a million yuan (around
$130,000) grant as a "Model Project" from the One
Foundation, a charity created by the Chinese martial art movie star Jet Li.

There are also concerns for the welfare of Chime
Namgyal, who has been tortured while serving a
21-month re-education through labor sentence for
"harming national security" according to Tibetan
sources in the area. Just over a week ago, Chime
Namgyal's health deteriorated dramatically and he
was sent to hospital. According to the same
sources, he cannot walk or eat on his own, and
detention center staff feared he would die in custody.

The re-education through labor management
committee from Chamdo Prefecture alleged that
Chime Namgyal had set up an "illegal"
environmental organization that "illegally
collected three digital disks of information and
video footage about the environment, the natural
resources and the religion of Changdu prefecture
… provided pictures and material for the illegal
publication 'Forbidden Mountain, Prohibited
Hunting', illegally possessed reactionary
propaganda materials from the Dalai clique abroad
and organized the local residents into irregular
petitioning of the authorities… therefore
severely interfering with state power
organizations at the local level and effectively
harming social stability." (ICT translation from the Chinese RTL document).

Karma Samdrup, who appeared in court yesterday in
Xinjiang, is being held on what are regarded as
trumped-up charges for excavating and robbing
ancient tombs - a charge initially brought and
allowed to drop in 1998. The environmentalist and
philanthropist, also known as the "King of
Heavenly Beads" for his important collection of
Tibetan cultural artifacts, was arrested in
Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, in
early January. He was taken to Xinjiang because
this is where the charges originated.

The lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, has told foreign
reporters based in Beijing that he did not know
why the charges had resurfaced after so long,
saying: "He wasn't really expecting it. This case
was many years ago and at that time the Xinjiang
police had already made a decision recognizing
Karma Samdrup was not guilty and the grave
robbers (who were)…have already been punished."
(Reuters, June 1). Although the trial is being
held in Xinjiang, some informed observers believe
that it is the Tibet Autonomous Region
authorities driving the proceedings, due to local
officials' interests being challenged by the brothers' environmental work.

Pu Zhiqiang has also expressed serious concern
about obstacles presented by the authorities in
Karma Samdrup's case, which Human Rights Watch
has categorized as repeated violations of China's
own criminal procedure law. He was denied the
right to meet anyone, including his wife and his
lawyers, for more than six months after his
arrest, and the court refused to allow Karma
Samdrup's lawyers to photocopy the 70-page
prosecution file to prepare his defense,
insisting that they only copy excerpts (Human
Rights Watch report, June 10,

In a letter to the court, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang
wrote: "It should be said that even though we
overcame many hardships and have striven to
'complement' the work of the court, ultimately
because the case is complex, and because it is
from long ago and because the case file is
confused, we encountered bottlenecks in the
practice of our profession and face extremely
serious difficulties." (Translation from the
Chinese by ICT, reproduced in a blogpost of June
3 at

In her blogpost today about the court
proceedings, Karma Samdrup's wife writes: "The
lawyer also almost started crying. During the
afternoon trial, the submission of evidence and
translations was an endless process, endless but
extraordinary. All of the evidence that was
'temporarily put aside', to my understanding,
contained many loopholes and contradictions. Even
the lawyers seemed to think that much was illegal
in the procedures and they raised their doubts.
It was just a pity that the panel discarded them
as 'unrelated to the respective issue' or said
that 'this has already been clarified'."

The cases are in the context of a deepening
crackdown in Tibet in which almost many
expressions of Tibetan identity or support for
Tibetan culture can be accused of being
'reactionary' or 'splittist'. For the first time
since the Cultural Revolution intellectuals and
prominent figures in the community are being
targeted more systematically for their work or
views. The cases of the three brothers are
different to previous Tibetan political cases,
which have involved some form of protest or
dissent - there is no evidence of any political
activities or even of opposition to mines or
corporations by Karma Samdrup, Rinchen Samdrup or
Chime Namgyal. (Also see ICT report

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications, ICT
Tel: +44 7947 138612
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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