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'A sharp knife above his head': the trials and sentencing of hree environmentalist brothers in Tibet

August 5, 2010

ICT Special Report
August 4, 2010

"[On the day of Karma Samdrup's sentencing to 15
years], his two Chinese lawyers could see that:
'The sharp knife was already raised above his
head, ready to fall in an instant'"

- Blogpost by Woeser, June 25, 2010.


Lawyers for Karma Samdrup, a leading Tibetan
environmentalist and philanthropist sentenced to
15 years imprisonment on June 24 on highly
dubious charges of involvement in a 12-year old
case of grave robbing, learned yesterday that his
appeal was summarily rejected on July 7 - the
same day the court had received the case file.
The court had neglected to inform either his
lawyers or Karma Samdrup's wife of its decision.

Karma Samdrup is one of three brothers who are
all now either imprisoned or serving
"re-education through labor" following charges
that are believed to have been rigged after their
efforts to stop the poaching of endangered
species clashed with the local authorities.

This ICT report presents new information and
analysis of the legal shortcomings of the cases.
It includes translations of key Chinese-language
documentation relating to the cases, a copy of
Karma Samdrup's complete sentencing document, and
an analysis of the case by one of his Chinese
lawyers, unprecedented in its scope and
highlighting the efforts of Chinese and Tibetans
to directly challenge the authorities on legal issues.

A young Tibetan teacher, Tashi Topgyal, became
the sixth person to be detained in connection
with the brothers' cases when he disappeared into
police custody on July 5. The other two people
are Rinche Dorje, a monk and friend of Karma
Samdrup who had worked as his translator, and
Sonam Chonpel, who last year petitioned for two
of the brothers to be released. The six cases are
seen as indicative of a broadening crackdown against secular society in Tibet.

Karma Samdrup's elder brother, the
environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup, was sentenced
on July 3 to five years. (See ICT report
'Award-winning Tibetan environmentalist on trial
today,' July 3, 2010,
Karma Samdrup, who founded the Snowlands Three
Rivers Environmental Protection Group, told the
court that he had been severely tortured in
detention. Their disabled brother Chime Namgyal
is serving 21 months in a labor camp, and can no
longer walk or eat without assistance after being
tortured. The brothers' mother was seriously
injured after she was beaten unconscious by armed
police who were detaining them, and 20 villagers
who petitioned on behalf of the brothers were interrogated and tortured.

President of the International Campaign for Tibet
Mary Beth Markey said: "These cases testify to
the politicization of the Chinese legal system
and should have a chilling effect on any person
or entity seeking to engage China on the basis of
rules-based procedures and agreements.
Governments who see China as an important player
on global issues, including on environmental
issues, should take a hard look at these cases.
They are indicative of China's inability and
unwillingness to provide legal protection to
anyone that runs afoul of political interests."

The three brothers were previously acclaimed even
in the Chinese state-run media as model citizens
and pillars of their local community, and there
is no evidence that they were involved in any
political activities. Their imprisonment and the
weakness of the charges against them are
indicative of the current repressive climate and
crackdown against secular society in Tibet, in
which the Chinese authorities are becoming more
aggressive and inventive at using the law and
courts to serve political purposes rather than upholding justice.

The imprisonment of the brothers appears to have
been driven by the Tibet Autonomous Region
authorities. Officials in Tibet are keenly aware
of local resentment since the protests that have
swept Tibet from March, 2008 onwards and, as a
result, a pattern seems to be emerging of
attempting to silence individuals who are
well-educated and influential in their community,
possibly because such individuals have the
potential to represent an alternative - and
therefore potentially subversive, from an
official perspective - pole of authority to government and Party structures.

As a result of their detentions, there has been a
detrimental impact on environmental conservation
work in the three brothers' home area. Led by
Rinchen Samdrup, hundreds of villagers had been
engaged in litter collection, monitoring illegal
hunting, and planting hundreds of thousands of
trees. The brothers' village is in the Yangtze
River watershed, so Chinese conservationists
regard tree-planting there as not only essential
for the local environment, but also for the
protection of water and soil on the upper reaches
of the Yangtze. With the detention of Rinchen
Samdrup and now Tashi Topgyal, one of the
best-educated Tibetans in the local community,
the work is no longer continuing and local
Tibetans in the area are said to be frightened and intimidated.

The case against Karma Samdrup also been
exceptional because it is the first time that
there has been international media coverage of
the trial of a prominent Tibetan before the
verdict was officially handed down. That coverage
was possible because of Karma Samdrup's Chinese
lawyers and his wife, Dolkar Tso, making
information public on blogs that have now been
closed down by the authorities. In a blog written
a day after her husband's sentencing to 15 years,
Dolkar Tso said that she wished to express her
deep gratitude to the two Chinese lawyers who
defended him. She wrote: "We are striving for
truth and justice together, no matter if we are
Chinese or Tibetan. […] I thank these two
lawyers, I thank all friends of all
nationalities, and from the beginning to the end,
I have not felt alone."

Details of Individuals Detained

* Karma Samdrup, 42, a well-known philanthropist
and founder of the Snowlands Three Rivers
Environmental Protection Group. He was sentenced
to 15 years imprisonment on June 24 on charges
related to an incident of grave robbing in 1998,
and for which he was cleared of all suspicion of
wrong-doing at the time. During the trial, which
was branded "a complete fake" by his lawyer,
Karma Samdrup described in detail the torture he
had been subjected to in pre-trial detention, but
the judge dismissed his testimony as
"irrelevant." [See ICT report 'Fears for three
environmentalist brothers as 'gaunt' Karma
Samdrup on trial after torture,' June 24, 2010,]

* Rinchen Samdrup, 44, Karma Samdrup's brother.
He was sentenced on July 3 to five years
imprisonment on charges of "incitement to split
the nation" after an oblique reference to the
Dalai Lama appeared on a website he ran; [See ICT
report 'Award-winning Tibetan environmentalist on
trial today,' July 3, 2010,]

* Chime Namgyal, 38, the brother of Karma and
Rinchen Samdrup. He began serving a 21-month
sentence in a labor camp in August 2009 on
charges, which according to his sentencing
document, included compiling information about
the local environment. As a result of having been
tortured, he can no longer walk or eat without
assistance. When Chime Namgyal and Rinchen
Samdrup were detained on August 7, 2009, their
elderly mother was beaten unconscious by police.

* Tashi Topgyal (Chinese transliteration: Zhaxi
Duojia), who was detained by about a dozen
policemen in a raid on the place he was staying
in Lhasa on July 5, is a well-educated
Tibetan-language teacher from the same village as
Rinchen Samdrup, namely Zirong Village in Gonjo
(Chinese: Gongjue) County, in Chamdo (Chinese:
Changdu) Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous
Region.1 He also participated in Rinchen
Samdrup's environmental protection work. He had
been visiting the capital in order to ascertain
the whereabouts of another Tibetan detained in
connection with the case of the three brothers, Rinchen Dorje.

* Rinchen Dorje, Karma Samdrup's Chinese
translator 12 years ago when conducting business
in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region north of
Tibet, has been missing since March 2010 and is believed to be in detention.

* Sonam Chonpel, who is in his sixties, a cousin
of the three brothers, is now serving 18 months
in a 're-education through labor' camp.

The mother of the three brothers, who is in her
mid-seventies, was seriously injured and treated
in hospital after being beaten unconscious when
armed police detained two of her sons from home
on August 7 last year, according to new
information from the area. The same sources say
that she was unconscious for several hours and
taken to hospital in Yushu in neighboring Qinghai
Province by relatives where she had to undergo an
operation. The police officers who beat her were
led by Chamdo Prefecture Deputy Party Secretary
Chen Yue, who is believed to be still in the same position.

Twenty villagers from Gonjo county 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.

ICT recommends:

* The charges against Karma Samdrup, Rinchen
Samdrup, serving five years, and their disabled
brother Chime Namgyal, demonstrate serious
violations of China's own Criminal Procedure Law and should be dropped.

* There must also be a full accounting of the
whereabouts and welfare of Tibetans detained and
'disappeared' in connection to this case,
including Rinchen Dorje and Tashi Topgyal.

* The six individuals named in this report must
be allowed unrestricted access to counsel of
choice, appropriate access to family members, and
access to proper medical care for those who need it.

* There should be an urgent investigation by the
Chinese authorities the serious and detailed
allegations of torture of Karma Samdrup, Rinchen
Samdrup and Chime Namgyal in the light of
regulations announced in June banning the
admission of confessions obtained through
torture. The Chinese government must comply with
its obligations as a party to the U.N. Convention
on Torture to ensure that the perpetrators of
torture are held fully accountable and that
effective measures are taken against any further occurrences of torture.

* International governments should urgently raise
serious concerns about the importance of the
three brothers' environmental work, which is in
China's interests as well as Tibet's, following
evidence that essential conservation efforts in
the area have suffered following their detention.

The full report can be downloaded on Aug. 4, 2010
or contact for an advance pdf copy.

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Director of Communications
International Campaign for Tibet
Tel: +44 7947 138612

[1] The Chamdo area has been subject to
particularly stringent restrictions since March,
2008. The Chinese government regards Chamdo as "a
strategic bridge between the Tibet Autonomous
Region and the neighboring provinces of Sichuan,
Yunnan and Qinghai." (Tibet Daily, April 17). The
region has been of particular strategic
importance to Beijing since the Communist
authorities gained control of central Tibet when
Chamdo, eastern Tibet's provincial capital, fell
to the People's Liberation Army on October 7,
1950. The Chinese authorities will mark the 60th
anniversary of Chamdo's 'liberation' later this
year. See ICT report 'Determination to resist
rrepression continues in 'combat-ready' Chamdo,
frontline of 'patriotic education,' December 2,
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