By Phurbu Thinley
Dharamsala, July 9: Human rights group Amnesty International on Thursday called on China to stop persecution of three award-winning Tibetan environmental activist brothers, two of whom were recently given lengthy prison sentences.
Undated photo shows Dolkar Tso with her husband Karma Samdrup
Karma Samdrup, named ‘philanthropist of the year' in 2006 by China's state broadcaster CCTV for his work on river preservation, was sentenced on June 24 to 15 years for “inciting the stealing of cultural relics” from tombsites, a charge that had been dropped way back in 1998.
Karma’s arrest took place in January after he lobbied for the release of his two detained brothers Rinchen Samdrup and Chime Namgyal. They were arrested in August 2009 after their award-winning anti-poaching and reforestation NGO threatened to uncover corrupt officials illegally hunting endangered wildlife.
Rinchen was sentenced on Saturday to five years after a cursory trial for “inciting splittism”, having been in detention without trial for almost a year. The key piece of evidence was reportedly an article mentioning the Dalai Lama that he insisted someone else had posted on his website.
In a statement released Thursday, the Amnesty International called for the release of the three activist brothers, saying they were convicted without fair trial.
“The trials of the two brothers have been grossly unfair. Their lawyers have been repeatedly denied access to their clients and to key evidence,” the rights group said in the statement.
Chime is already serving 21 months of “Re-education Through Labour” imposed without charge or trial, on allegations of “harming social stability” by illegally collecting local information about the environment and religion, and organizing “irregular petitioning” by local residents.
Rinchen and Chime's NGO, however, had received wide praise in Chinese state media, as well as support from the Ford motor company and from actor Jet Li's One Foundation.
“Rinchen's activism has been celebrated by state newspapers, citing local Communist Party officials, while he was actually in detention,” Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific, said in the statement.
“The targeting of this apolitical family sends worrying signals that the authorities are engaged in an ever-widening crackdown. Such prosecutions could also threaten the growing environmental activism that the country so desperately needs.”
The brothers' extended family is also being targeted by authorities.
A cousin, Sonam Choephel, is serving one and a half years of `Re-education Through Labour` after organizing a group to petition in Beijing for justice for Rinchen Samdrup.
Another cousin, Rinchen Dorje, who had acted as an interpreter for Karma Samdrup, was arrested in March and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
The International Campaign for Tibet has stated that Karma Samdrup's mother, in her 70s, was beaten unconscious by police under the authority of a Communist Party official, and that 20 villagers from the brothers' home area were detained, interrogated and tortured after further petitioning in Beijing.
“Cultural and intellectual leaders in the Tibetan community have been increasingly targeted by Chinese security forces since the 2008 protests and unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and in other Tibetan areas,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Karma Samdrup’s wife, Dolkar Tso, has written a letter of appeal to the Chinese government officials on June 25, a day after Karma was sentenced, pleading for the innocence of her husband.
The letter of appeal was initially posted online
on the blog of Karma Samdrup's lawyer, well-known Chinese civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. However, the post is no longer accessible now. The letter has been posted by Woeser, a prominent Tibetan poet, writer and a blogger based in Beijing, on her popular blog
High Peaks Pure Earth has posted a translated version
of the letter on its website.
“But now, my innocent husband has been sentenced to 15 years in prison accused of ‘robbing ancient graves’, our two unaware daughters still hope for a phone call from their father day and night,” Tso writes in the letter.
“The past year’s earthquake and many other unexpected events have gradually destroyed our simple but happy family,” she says.
“If my husband had really broken the law, I would by no means beg for leniency on his behalf; but we – all his relatives, friends and I – have known Karma for many years, and especially after his three-day trial from 22 to 24 June, we are more convinced than ever that Karma is innocent; he is no criminal,” she says.
Tso's letter claims her husband was denied fair trial by the Chinese court.
“For a housewife coming from a family like mine, this trial was so obviously not fair,” she says in the letter. “The collegial panel only listened to the words of the prosecutor and turned a deaf ear to the questions of the defending advocates.
“The prosecutors’ proceedings revealed too many loopholes and the evidence, which they submitted was contradictory and full of flaws, making him a suspect on false grounds. But when Karma and his defenders requested evidence or wanted to call in a witness, which are all very legal requests, they were refused,” the letter says.