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Tibetan philanthropist sentenced to 18 years for “inciting separatism”

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Entrepreneur and philanthropist Tenzin Choephel in an undated photo (Photo/TCHRD)

By Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, July 26: A Tibetan entrepreneur and philanthropist named Tenzin Choephel has reportedly been sentenced to 18 years in prison on trumped up charges including “inciting separatism” in Tarchen Township, Sernye district in Nagchu city. Information supplied by the Dharamshala-based research group Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) revealed that the sentencing took place on May 24, 2019 for 18 years of fixed imprisonment along with five years of deprivation of political rights for various alleged crimes.

Vague charges such as “illegally sending intelligence overseas” and “financing activities that endanger state security” were imposed upon him leading to such a heavy sentence. In addition to accusing him of severe crimes, the Chinese authorities had also confiscated all of his personal property. Following the sentencing, Choephel’s family filed an appeal to overturn the verdict but the report stated that it was rejected by the TAR Higher People’s Court in October 2019. Choephel was held incommunicado for over a year after he was first detained on March 30, 2018, and is now serving the sentence in Chushur prison in Lhasa.

“The rejection of his appeal was a foregone conclusion due to the discriminatory criminal justice system, which is subservient to political and ideological considerations of the Chinese party-state. In practice, the right to appeal is just a paper exercise,” TCHRD report said, citing the high profile case of Tibetan businessman Dorje Tashi who is serving life imprisonment and whose appeals to the court were ignored despite his connection in the Communist Party.  

TCHRD Director Tsering Tsomo said in a statement, “The unjust imprisonment of Tibetans like Mr Tenzin Choephel is not just a travesty of justice but also part of a well-orchestrated plan to annihilate all forms of peaceful dissent against human rights abuses, political repression and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Chinese party-state.” Tsering further urged the UN, human rights organizations and civil societies to pressure the Chinese state to immediately release Tenzin Choephel and all other Tibetans subjected to arbitrary detention.

According to previous reports, Choephel was known for his notable work in defending Tibetan environment and culture; promoting unity among Tibetans; and also for helping the poor and the destitute with his own money. Choephel has not been seen since his arrest by the police in March 2018 from Gongkar airport in Lhasa. After detaining him, the police allegedly found banned photos of exiled leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama amidst other “political literature”.

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