10/07/2020

Six Family Members Arbitrarily Detained and Sentenced Over Their Activism

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Karma Samdrup
Karma Samdrup

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) strongly condemns the Chinese authorities’ incomprehensible attack on Karma Samdrup and several members his family. In a span of less than one year, six members (three brothers and three cousins, all male) of a single family have been arrested, sentenced, and reportedly tortured-actions which can only be characterized as official reprisal for their activism. Four of the six are serving prison or “re-education through labor” sentences; at this time the whereabouts and well-being of two others remain unknown.

In pursuing arbitrary, targeted attacks against the family over the peaceful exercise of their fundamental human rights, the Chinese government is in flagrant violation of their obligations under the Chinese Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, the cruel and inhumane treatment and systematic denial of due process seen in the cases at issue run afoul of Chinese Criminal Procedure Law as well as numerous international norms regarding the treatment of prisoners and the right to a fair trial.

The family’s plight has drawn international attention as particularly alarming, as the family was once lauded by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as ideal Tibetans who steered clear of political matters. The targeted persecutions by Chinese government officials raises resounding concerns over a growing trend of severe punishments for anyone seen as defying their authority.

The family’s trouble started when Chime Namgyal(38) and Rinchen Samdrup (44), two brothers who ran an award-winning environmental NGO in their home village of Gonjo County, Chamdo Prefecture, “Tibetan Autonomous Region” (“TAR”), accused a local police official of poaching endangered species. In a flagrant act of official reprisal, Chinese police imprisoned Jigme and Rinchen on 7 August 2009. In November, Chime, who is disabled, received a sentence of 21-months of “re-education through labor” (RTL) for “harming social stability.” Jigme’s offense was illegal collection of information about the environment, which he allegedly shared with the “Dalai clique.” China’s RTL system has been widely criticized as contrary to numerous international norms because accused persons are sentenced without any trial, due process, or legal defense. Human Rights experts characterized the charges against Jigme Namgyal as a cause of potential embarrassment to the local authorities rather than a threat to national security.

On 3 January 2010, Chime’s older brother Karma Samdrup, a prominent businessman and award-winning philanthropist known as the “King of Heavenly Beads,” was imprisoned on trumped up charges of grave-robbing. Karma’s arrest occurred shortly after he spoke out about his brothers’ cases after visiting them in prison and hearing about their horrific mistreatment at the hands of Chinese authorities. The charges against Karma stem from his purchase of artifacts in Xinjiang in 1998 -charges promptly dropped by Chinese authorities due to lack of evidence and the fact that Karma had a license to deal in such items. The re-initiation of charges over a decade later can only be regarded as on official reprisal for speaking in his brothers defense.

After six months of incarceration, during which he endured severe beatings and torture by Chinese authorities, on 24 June 2010 a court in Xinjiang sentenced Karma to 15 years imprisonment and deprivation of his political rights for five years. Dolker Tso, Karma’s wife, estimates he lost at least 25 kgs while in custody.

Karma’s trial was replete with irregularities and has been widely criticized by international human rights observers for violating China’s own criminal procedure laws. He was denied the right to meet anyone, including his lawyers, for more than six months after his arrest. Karma’s only meeting with his lawyers occurred on the eve of his trial-a meeting that lasted only 30 minutes, and was monitored by police officers in the room. Evidence was altered, a “mysterious witness” suddenly appeared on the second day of the trial, and the judge refused to delve into Mr. Samdrup’s claims of having been beaten and drugged during his 6-month period of pre-trial detention. “The court completely ignored the facts, trampled on the legal system and violated Karma’s humanity,” said Pu Zhiqiang, Karma’s lawyer. The Chinese language opinion in Karma’s case was made available within hours of the sentencing-strongly suggesting that the decision was “preordained,” according to a Human Rights Watch observer.

On 3 July 2010, ten days after Karma’s sentencing, the Chamdo Intermediate People’s Court sentenced environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup to five years in prison on charges of “incitement to split the country” for posting an article about the Dalai Lama on his website. Rinchen’s family members were refused permission to see him and his lawyer, Xia Jun, had not been able to meet with him since his first court appearance in January 2010.

Three cousins have also been the target of official governmental reprisals in recent months. After organizing a group to petition in Beijing on Rinchen Samdrup’s behalf, Sonam Choephel was sentenced to one and a half years of re-education through labor. In March 2010, Rinchen Dorje, a Buddhist monk, was arrested on vague and unspecified charges while meditating in a cave as part his hermit vows. At the time of this writing, Rinchen Dorje’s whereabouts and well-being remain unknown.

On 5 July 2010, the sixth member of the Samdrup family was arbitrarily deprived of his personal freedom. Tashi Topgyal, a teacher in his early thirties, was seized by a dozen Chinese security personnel from a home in Lhasa, where he had traveled seeking information on the whereabouts of Rinchen Dorjee. According to reports, Topgyal had traced Rinchen to a hospital in Xinjiang. Chinese Police explained that Rinchen’s burns were the result of electric prods used on him during an alleged escape attempt.

Some analysts suggest that persecution of the Samdrups may be more attributable to local officials than central authorities in Beijing. Nevertheless, the TCHRD calls on the Chinese government to investigate the cases of Karma Samdrup, Chime Namgyal, Rinchen Samdrup, Sonam Cheophel, Rinchen Dorjee, and Tashi Topgyal-cases which apparently fall far short of due process standards under both Chinese and international law. The plight of the family illustrates the hollowness of the Chinese government’s claims of “remarkable progress in the improvement of its legal system.” TCHRD calls on the Chinese government to live up to its policy commitments regarding the enjoyment of civil and political rights in its recently unveiled National Human Rights Action Plan 2009-2010. The Centre deems these miscarriages of justice as particularly troubling given China’s new laws regarding the inadmissibility of evidence with unclear origins and confessions obtained through torture and intimidation. These cases call into question the efficacy of China’s commitment to improve its human rights record.