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Prominent former political prisoner Tsegon Gyal sentenced to three years on charge of ‘inciting separatism’

Tsegon Gyal

A prominent former political prisoner who had been detained incommunicado more than a year ago was sentenced to three years on the charge of ‘inciting separatism’ early last month in Tsojang (Ch: Haibei) ‘Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture’ (TAP), Qinghai Province, in the Tibetan province of Amdo.

Mr Tsegon Gyal, 55, was sentenced on 10 January by the Tsojang prefecture intermediate people’s court and has since been transferred to Dongchuan prison (西宁市东川监狱) in Siling (Ch: Xining) city to serve his term​. Sometime before his sentencing, Mr Gyal’s parents had been allowed to meet him for the first time since his detention in December 2016.

The court announced the verdict after more than eight months of holding Mr Gyal’s trial on 3 May 2017. Mr Gyal’s parents and relatives were not invited to observe the closed-door trial. He was not provided any legal representation or access to a fair trial. Until his sentencing, he had been kept incommunicado in the custody of the prefecture State Security Bureau officials at the Kangtsa County detention center.

A source in Tibet informed TCHRD that Mr Gyal was most likely sentenced for publishing a blogpost on WeChat in which he criticised the Chinese government for failing to genuinely promote its policy of ‘ethnic unity’. Successive policies and campaigns implemented by Chinese authorities have shown that the unity promoted among ‘ethnic groups’ is essentially aimed at diluting the distinct cultural and religious identity of Tibetans and other so-called ethnic minorities.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 78th session in April 2017 ruled that the deprivation of liberty of Mr Gyal was arbitrary and that there is no legal basis to justify his detention. The Working Group also maintained that international norms relating to the right to a fair trial as established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the relevant international instruments were not observed and that Mr Gyal’s detention “constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination based on birth, national, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, economic condition, political or other opinion … or any other status, that aims towards or can result in ignoring the equality of human beings.”

The Working Group had transmitted communication concerning Mr Gyal to the government of China on 3 February 2017 but neither receive a response by the deadline 5 April 2017 nor a request for a deadline extension . In cases where there is true and reliable information that a person detained for a regular crime was punished for exercising their fundamental rights, the Working Group asserts that it is the Government’s responsibility to produce specific evidence of the basis of the conviction.

​Mr Gyal was charged of ‘inciting separatism’ (煽动分裂国家罪) on 24 December 2016 after more than two weeks of his detention. In detention, he had staged a silent protest by refusing to respond to his interrogators. By exercising his right to silence, Mr Gyal protested against the violation of his right to hire a lawyer and seek legal protection. Chinese Criminal Procedure Law contains weak protection against self-incrimination, or the right to be presumed innocent. Article 14 (g) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights asserts the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself as well as the right not to confess guilt. This right becomes all the more crucial when a person is detained incommunicado and vulnerable to torture and coercive interrogations.
TCHRD strongly condemns the arbitrary detention and sentencing of Mr Gyal without granting him the access to legal representation and the right to a fair trial. Mr Gyal must be released without any delay or conditions because he broke no law. The right to freedom of expression and opinion is enshrined in Chinese Constitution and guaranteed in the international human rights instruments. Chinese authorities must stop the endemic practice of jailing peaceful Tibetan activists and government critics on trumped up charges of ‘inciting separatism’.

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