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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Founder of Tibetan cultural website sentenced to 15 years in closed-door trial in freedom of expression case

November 17, 2009

ICT Report
November 16, 2009

Kunchok Tsephel, an official in a Chinese
government environmental department and founder
of the influential Tibetan literary website,
Chodme (‘Butter-Lamp’,, has been
sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of
disclosing state secrets, according to reports
from Tibet received by Tibetan exiles. Some of
the charges are believed to relate to content on
his website, which aims to protect Tibetan
culture, and passing on information about last year’s protests in Tibet.

The news emerged as US President Obama made a
pointed reference during his visit to China about
the importance of free flow of information and
uncensored internet access. Speaking to students
in Shanghai today as part of a week-long visit to
Asia, President Obama said: "I think that the
more freely information flows, the stronger the
society becomes, because then citizens of
countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable."

Thirty-nine year old Kunchok Tsephel was detained
in the early hours of the morning on February 26.
His house was ransacked and his computer, camera
and mobile phone seized. His family had no idea
where he was until last week, according to the
same sources. They were summoned to court on
November 12 to hear the verdict of 15 years
imprisonment after a closed-door trial at the
Intermediate People’s Court of Kanlho (Chinese:
Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province.

Kunchok Tsephel, who was born into a nomadic
family in 1970 in Machu (Chinese: Maqu) county,
Gannan, the eastern Tibetan area of Amdo, is
fluent in Tibetan, English and Chinese. He
studied English and Chinese languages at Beijing
Nationality University and from 1997-99,
continued to study English at North Western
Nationality University in Lanzhou.  In 2004, he
was recruited as a Tibetan and English language
teacher at the Tibetan Nationality Middle School
in Machu. He founded his website on Tibetan arts
and literature in 2005, together with a young
Tibetan poet Kyabchen Dedrol. The website, which
was shut down by the authorities several times
over the past few years, was self-funded with a
mission of promoting Tibetan arts and literature.

According to his friends, Kunchok Tsephel is in
poor health after nine months of detention and
interrogation and there are fears for his
welfare. Until his detention, he provided the
main source of income for his family; his wife,
who is also a government worker, is currently caring for their sick daughter.

Kunchok Tsephel had undergone an earlier period
of detention in 1995 linked to suspicion of
involvement in political activities. He was
tortured and interrogated but protested his
innocence and was released without charge after two months.

One of Kunchok Tsephel’s close friends, who is
now in exile, said today: "His family has endured
nine months of agonizing waiting after Kunchok
disappeared in February. Now they are even more
distraught by this long sentence. Because the
charges related to state secrets, they do not
even know why Kunchok has been sentenced to 15
years, and he has been denied access to a lawyer."

The Chinese government does not need to define
what constitutes a ‘state secret.’ ‘State
secrets’ laws and regulations are implemented
through Communist Party controlled-government
bodies that work together with state security,
and through criminal laws, to create an opaque
system that controls the classification of -- and
criminalizes the disclosure or possession of -- state secrets.

The human rights monitoring organisation Human
Rights in China states: "Tight control over this
system by the government bureaucracy, headed by
the National Administration for the Protection of
State Secrets, gives the Chinese Communist Party
leadership the power to classify any information
it desires as a state secret and thereby keep
or  - even if it is already public - remove it
from circulation. This information includes the
state secrets laws and regulations themselves,
and without public dissemination of these laws,
it is exceptionally difficult for individuals to
know for sure when they are violated. Instead of
the ‘harmonious society’ being called for by
Chinese leaders, what remains is a controlled
society where critical voices pay a heavy price.”
(‘State Secrets: China's Legal Labyrinth,’ a
report by Human Rights in China, June 12, 2007,

Since protests broke out across Tibet in March
2008, the Chinese government has stepped up
efforts to silence Tibetans from speaking about
the unrest, and have strengthened attempts to
cover up the torture, disappearances and killings
that have been part of the crackdown. New
campaigns directed against Tibetan culture and
religion have been initiated, and now almost any
expression of Tibetan identity not directly
sanctioned by the state can be branded as
‘reactionary’ or ‘splittist’ and penalized with a
long prison sentence, or worse. Tibetan
intellectuals, writers and bloggers who have
expressed views about the situation have been at
increasing risk and a number have ‘disappeared’
or sentenced to prison terms

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Communications Director, International Campaign for Tibet
Tel: + 44 (0) 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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