Chinese authorities have arbitrarily detained a popular Tibetan activist known for his tireless campaign to promote good governance, anti-corruption and social accountability in his hometown of Kyangche (Ch: Jiangqian) Township, Gade (Ch: Gande) County, Golok (Ch: Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Qinghai Province, in the Tibetan province of Amdo.
Mr A-nya Sengdra, 47, was beaten up and detained on 4 September from the highway intersection in Golok TAP by Gade County Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers and taken to the PSB detention centre in Drotsang (Ch: Ledu) County, Tsoshar (Ch: Haidong) Prefecture, where he remains to this day.
Since his detention, his wife, Mrs Yangkyi, and other relatives have not been allowed to visit him despite repeated attempts including interventions from his lawyer, Mr Lin Qilei, who also petitioned relevant local police authorities. Mrs Yangkyi was denied permission to visit her husband on 18 September and on 21 October when she and other family members were ordered to hand over the things that they had brought for him.
On 22 October, Mr Lin Qilei finally managed to secure permission from the Gade County PSB to visit Mr Sengdra in detention. Following the visit, Mr Lin Qilei remarked that his client was in extremely poor health and had lost a lot of weight. His deteriorating health condition is directly related to the curious decision of local police authorities to detain him in the distant town of Drotsang, which is a low altitude area with unsuitable weather and poor quality water that eventually took its toll on Mr Sengdra’s health. Mr Sengdra suffered from severe diarrhea and loss of appetite. For more than 137 hours, he was unable to drink or eat anything. He is now a shadow of his former burly, strapping self.
During his meeting with Mr Lin Qilei, Mr Sengdra had expressed doubts over the intention of local authorities to detain him in Drotsang rather than in Gade County. “It could be a ploy to torture me. I did not commit any crime; I simply appealed to the higher authorities on the wellbeing of the local people,” he told his lawyer, a source informed TCHRD. Briefly in November, he was taken to the PSB office in Gade County presumably to prepare the notice for the extension of his detention period that was approved by Gade PSB office and addressed to Machen (Ch: Maqin) County Detention Centre.
For now, Mr Sengdra is charged with ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ but a notice issued by the Gade County PSB that extended his detention period confirmed that the local investigation officers are preparing to add more charges in a clear attempt to imprison him for a longer period. The notice, issued on 11 December, mentioned that the Gade County PSB suspected Mr Sengdra of committing other crimes in addition to ‘provoking trouble’ for which they ostensibly had to undertake further investigation and hence the detention period was extended from 12 November to 12 January next year.
‘Provoking trouble’ is a vaguely worded offence under Article 293 of Chinese Criminal Law that has been increasingly used in recent years particularly since Xi Jinping’s presidency to persecute and launch reprisals against human rights defenders and other activists critical of government policies and practices.
In her petition, Mrs Yangkyi accused Gade County government authorities for arresting her husband on baseless charges and called the arrest a reprisal for his activities to defend the rights of local Tibetan nomads. She wrote that her husband had appealed and submitted petitions to the provincial authorities in Qinghai and relevant judicial authorities in Beijing complaining about the corrupt practices of local authorities. She explained that over the years, local authorities had introduced numerous welfare schemes to rehabilitate and compensate for the resettlement and relocation of nomads such as grassland and forestry subsidies, low-income household benefits and other poverty alleviation schemes but much of the relief funds never reached the targeted beneficiaries or the nomads.
Mr Sengdra has been a steadfast campaigner against government corruption at least since 2014 when he and other local Tibetan nomads founded a voluntary organisation called ‘Mang Dhon Ling’ (Public Affairs Forum) to fight against corruption and abuse of power by local authorities. For years, he had publicly challenged local officials for siphoning off public money, run campaigns against illegal mining activities and hunting and poaching of endangered animals. He became hugely popular in the local community and in December 2014 local Tibetans elected him as the leader of the ‘pastoral animal husbandry committee’ of his village. He could not take up the post due to interference from local authorities that brought up an irrelevant case dating back to 2008 and got him arrested on 14 December 2014. He was then imprisoned for 1 year and 10 months and released on 18 October 2016 from Dongchuan prison in Siling (Ch: Xining).
TCHRD strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of Mr Sengdra on the politicised charge of ‘provoking trouble’ and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. In the meantime, Mr Sengdra’s family members must be allowed to meet with him to ascertain his condition and wellbeing. Local authorities must provide Mr Sengdra immediate medical care and guarantee that he is not subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Local authorities in Gade County and Drotsang County must be fully responsible for the physical and psychological wellbeing of Mr Sengdra.
“As a human rights defender, Mr Sengdra has focused much of his work on promoting good governance and advocating an end to corruption and abuse of power by local authorities. Criminalising Mr Sengdra’s heroic campaigns against corruption only exposes the hollowness and hypocrisy of the current Chinese leadership’s so-called war on corruption,” said Tsering Tsomo, executive director of TCHRD. “Corruption impedes a government’s ability to deliver public services that are essential for the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.”
‘Public Affairs Forum’
On 24 February 2014, Mr Sengdra along with 10 other members of Mang Dhon Ling filed a petition calling for an investigation into the corrupt activities of the Gade County authorities and the hardships faced by the poor in his township. The petition listed seven issues related to the mismanagement of public funds meant for the local nomads:
- Why are there no housing facilities for relocated nomads in Kyangche Township?
- The County government used poverty alleviation funds worth 18,00,000 RMB to buy a 720 sq. ft. shopping complex, which has not been handed over to the poor.
- Why was housing subsidy for nomads discontinued?
- The issue of government compensation for grassland and forestry [seized from nomads]
- The County government decided to provide monetary subsidies to the poor but the decision was never announced publicly.
- What is the reason for providing the list for 2012 fencing [of grassland] only in 2014?
- Whether the County Transportation office has built a bridge connecting the upper, middle and lower nomadic communities of Kyangche Township.
In the petition dated 8 September, Mrs Yangkyi, born on 15 May 1979, appealed for the release of her husband calling him a law abiding citizen who was falsely arrested. She called on the County PSB office to provide compensation to her husband for the damage they had done to his mental and economic wellbeing, adding that local authorities should focus on rooting out criminal activities and cleaning up the dirt they have created in society. “The corrupt officers of Gade County PSB office and local government have failed to adhere to the legal system and implement state policies. By keeping secrets from higher authorities and deceiving people below, they engage in lawlessness and on whim put false charges on law abiding citizens and destroy the faith between Tibetan nomads and the Communist party.”