By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
This photo obtained June 18, 2010 by The Associated Press shows Rinchen Samdrup in Lhasa in western China's Tibet region. Samdrup and his brother Chime Namgyal were detained in August 2009 after accusing local officials in eastern Tibet of poaching endangered animals. Human Rights Watch says Samdrup is serving a 21-month sentence of re-education through labor for 'harming national security.' (AP Photo)
BEIJING - An award-winning Tibetan environmentalist's trial on separatism charges has been put on hold, the latest twist in a trio of intertwined cases pitting three brothers against China's communist authorities.
The cases come amid increasing reports of repression of Tibetan intellectuals, an echo of the massive security crackdown that followed deadly rioting in the capital Lhasa two years ago.
Rinchen Samdrup was due to go on trial Thursday in the Tibetan region of Chamdo on the charge of "incitement to split the country," but the trial was abruptly canceled on Sunday, according to lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
Rinchen Samdrup, 44, was detained in August, along with his younger brother, Chime Namgyal, after they accused local officials in eastern Tibet of poaching endangered species.
Chime Namgyal, 38, is reportedly serving a 21-month sentence in a labor camp on the vague charge of harming national security.
A third brother, Karma Samdrup, 42, was arrested Jan. 3 after visiting his brothers in jail and speaking in their defense. He was due to go on trial on Tuesday in Yanqi county in the far western region of Xinjiang adjoining Chinese-administered Tibet.
This July 2005 photo obtained Friday June 18, 2010 by the Associated Press shows Chime Namgyal in Gongjo county, Chamdo prefecture, Tibet. Namgyal's brother, Tibet's 2006 philanthropist of the year Karma Samdrup, was detained in Xinjiang, Tibet in January 2010, five months after Namgyal and another brother were detained for allegedly running an illegal environmental group and stirring up local protests. Karma Samdrup's supporters say the charges against him were to punish him for trying to defend his two brothers, who before their detention accused local officials in eastern Tibet of poaching endangered animals. (AP Photo)
He is accused of dealing in looted antiquities, charges dating from 1998 that were never pursued until this year. Supporters say the charges were revived to punish him for standing up for his brothers.
Authorities in tightly controlled Tibet are extremely sensitive to any form of social activism and criticism of their work, either explicit or implied. And suppression of intellectuals appears to have increased in the wake of the 2008 Lhasa riots, in which at least 22 people died
The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet last month reported that 31 Tibetans are currently in prison "after reporting or expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing information about Chinese government policies and their impact in Tibet today."
The group said it was the first time since the end of China's chaotic Cultural Revolution in 1976 that there has been such a targeted campaign against peaceful expression by Tibetan intellectuals.
It wasn't clear whether authorities were waiting to try Rinchen Samdrup at a later date or if the trial's cancellation indicated problems with the case. Calls to the court on Monday rang unanswered.
His sister-in-law, Karma Samdrup's wife Zhenga Cuomao, said her husband found his brothers in poor condition when he visited them last year.
"Karma went to see his two brothers last year before he himself was detained. He said that his brothers had been badly mistreated, especially his little brother, who he said might not be able to live much longer," Zhenga Cuomao said by phone from Xinjiang, where she was hoping to attend Tuesday's trial.
Pu, Karma Samdrup's lawyer, said he would be optimistic about an acquittal under ordinary circumstances, but that "judging from the current situation in reality combined with years of experience of mine, I think the role that lawyers can play in this case is very much limited."