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Prominent Tibetan environmentalist sentenced to 15 years in prison PDF Print E-mail
[20 August 2010] Following a highly publicised trial in Lhasa, a prominent Tibetan art dealer and environmentalist was handed a 15 year prison sentence by the Chinese authorities on 24 June, despite no evidence of political activities. A subsequent appeal was turned down. Karma Samdrup is one of three brothers who are now serving sentences following confrontations with local authorities over the illegal poaching of endangered species.

Karma Samdrup Karma Samdrup is a well-known Tibetan art dealer, philanthropist and founder of the Snowlands Three Rivers Environmental Protection Group. In 2006 state broadcaster CCTV named him "philanthropist of the year". He was detained on 7 January 2010, following unsuccessful efforts to secure the release of his two brothers. Chime Namgyal and Rinchen Samdrup had been detained on 7 August 2009 after they claimed local officials were hunting endangered animals. Reports indicate Samdrup was severely tortured during his six months in detention prior to his trial.

On 24 June 2010, a Xinjiang court sentenced Karma Samdrup to 15 years imprisonment on charges relating to an incident in 1998 of grave robbing and selling stolen relics for which Samdrup was cleared of all suspicion of wrong-doing at the time. The 15 year sentence was appealed, but was summarily rejected by the court on 7 July, the same day the appeal was lodged. The court failed to notify either Karma Samdrup's wife or his lawyer, of its decision, and news of the rejected appeal only came to light at the beginning of August.

Rinchen SamdrupKarma Samdrups elder brother, the environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup
(pictured left), was sentenced on 3 July 2010 to a five year prison term on charges of incitement to split the nation, which apparently related to a reference to the Dalai Lama found on his website.

Chime NamgyalChime Namgyal (pictured right) began a 21 month sentence at a labor camp in August 2009. Namgyal has been tortured and can reportedly no longer walk or eat without assistance.

During the detention of Chime Namgyal and Rinchen Samdrup on 7 August 2009, the brothers' mother was seriously injured after she was beaten unconscious by armed police. Subsequently, 20 villagers petitioned on behalf of the brothers and were detained for 40 days during which time they were interrogated and tortured.

Three other Tibetans have been detained in relation to these cases. Tashi Topgyal, a Tibetan teacher, disappeared into police custody on 5 July 2010. Topgyal lived in the same village as Rinchen Samdrup (Zirong village, Gonjo County, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR) and assisted him with environmental projects. Rinchen Dorje, who worked with Karma Samdrup 12 years ago, has been missing since March 2010 and is believed to be in detention. Sonam Chonpel, a cousin of the three brothers, is now serving 18 months in a re-education through labor camp.

Since the arrests of the brothers, environmental work in their community, on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, has ceased as Tibetans in the local area are said to be frightened and intimidated. Previously hundreds of villagers had been engaged in litter collection, monitoring illegal hunting, and planting hundreds of thousands of trees.

The cases of the three brothers and their colleagues are seen as indicative of a broadening crackdown against secular society in Tibet by the Chinese government, and particularly against Tibetans who are well-educated and influential in their own communities.

Links to further reports:

Time: China Tightens Grip on Tibet's Business Class (18 August)
International Campaign for Tibet report: A sharp knife above his head: the trials and sentencing of three environmentalist brothers in Tibet (4 August)
AP (in Court rejects appeal from Tibetan environmentalist (2 August)
Amnesty International: China must halt persecution of award-winning Tibetan environmentalist family (8 July)
New York Times: Tibetan Environmentalist Receives 15-Year Sentence (24 June)

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