China must halt persecution of award-winning Tibetan environmentalist family
Amnesty International is calling for the release of three award-winning Tibetan environmental activist brothers, two of whom were recently given lengthy prison sentences within a week of each other.Karma Samdrup, named ‘philanthropist of the year’ in 2006 by China’s state broadcaster CCTV for his work on river preservation, was sentenced last week to 15 years for ‘inciting the stealing of cultural relics’ from tombsites, a charge that had been dropped in 1998.He has made detailed allegations of torture in detention to extract a forced confession. When he appeared in court in June, he had lost so much weight in six months that his wife could barely recognise him.Karma Samdrup’s arrest took place in January after he lobbied for the release of his two detained brothers Rinchen Samdrup and Chime Namgyal. The pair 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 an article mentioning the Dalai Lama that he insisted someone else had posted on his website. The trials of the two brothers have been grossly unfair. Their lawyers have been repeatedly denied access to their clients and to key evidence. 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 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,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific.“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 of China.