12/11/2019

Two Tibetans receive harsh prison sentences for online anti-fur campaign

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Two Tibetans in Tibet Autonomous Region were sentenced to five and seven years in prison for pictures they shared on WeChat

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) translated a copy (below) of the verdict of Jamyang Wangtso, a 32-year old monk and Namgyal Wangchuk, a 43-year old monk, both from Wuran Village. The verdict was translated from a Chinese government website and can be accessed here.

Due to the difficulty of getting information out of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), not much is known about the circumstance of Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk’s case beyond what is in the verdict. They received long prison sentences for adding text to a photo that they shared with 15 people on WeChat, a popular instant messaging service. The photo was of two people wearing fur chupas. The additional text was designed to shame the people in the photos.

The number of Tibetans wearing animal fur chupas has greatly decreased since 2006 when Tibetans burned fur clothing to protect the endangered wildlife in Tibet after the Dalai Lama issued a public call against using animal fur and skin. The pictures were shared with other WeChat groups and sparked the “2. 02 Incident.” There is no record in either English or Chinese of what happened during the “2.02 Incident.”

The verdict demonstrates how broad Chinese laws can be applied to criminalize all conduct and, thereby, justify the arrest and persecution of people “according to the law.” This is particularly evident because of the lack of analysis or explanation in the verdict, which asserted that a large amount of petitioning and an unexplained incident demonstrates the broad scope of the law and the arbitrary nature of the punishment.

Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk were convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in violation of Article 5(1) of the “Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of the Law in the Handling of Defamation through Information Networks and Other Criminal Cases” (hereinafter “SPC And SPP Interpretation On Internet Speech Crimes”).[1] The SPC And SPP Interpretation On Internet Speech Crimes states that violations of Article 293(2) of the Criminal Code applies to the use of information networks. Namgyal Wangchuk was sentenced to five years in prison.[2] Jamyang Wangtso was sentenced to seven years in prison. It is unclear from the verdict why Jamyang Wangtso received a sentence beyond the maximum five years permitted by Article 293 of the criminal code.

After identifying the accused, the court summarized the prosecution’s case against Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk. The court then listed the evidence supporting the prosecution’s case and adopted the theory of the case and sentence recommended by the prosecution. 
The prosecution asserted, and the court accepted, that Jamyang Wangtso, after receiving photos of Wangtse and Sonam Tsewang wearing leopard fur chupas and added the text, “The meat-stealer of Chakzamkha Monastery, the scum of the Tibetan community, I am the jackass” and later added text identifying the people in the photo by name. The next day he added a text saying, “We’re the scum” to the picture. At the same time, Namgyal Wangchuk also received the photos and made a collage with four photos and added the text, “Good environment needs trees, and trees need wild animals for company. Please care for them with compassion, don’t kill them brutally for meat and fur.” All of the pictures were forwarded to the “Family Reunion” WeChat group that had 15 members. How the pictures spread beyond the “Family Reunion” group is unclear. The verdict claimed that “the members of the group forwarded the picture to many different WeChat groups,” “members of the group found out later that the picture had been forwarded widely among the WeChat groups,” and that Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk had forwarded the pictures to other groups. Without explanation the court determined that Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk had created the pictures and forwarded them massively. The court never named any people or groups who received the picture other than the “Family Reunion” WeChat group and never stated whether anyone else was involved in forwarding the pictures.

After looking at what Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk did, the court looked at the consequences. The first consequence that the court pointed to was “a large amount of petitioning” by the victims. The second is the “2.02 Incident.” There is no explanation for how or why these actions fall within the scope of Art. 293(2) of the criminal code, which criminalizes undermining public order. The implication that the victim’s complaint about the pictures to government officials through petitioning undermines social order is remarkable. It appears to criminalize otherwise lawful conduct simply because somebody complained. The claim that the “2.02 Incident” undermined public order would be a more plausible grounds for conviction. However, without any information on what happened during the 2.02 incident or how the picture caused the incident, it is difficult to understand or follow the court’s reasoning or conclusions. In the end, the conviction rests upon the court accepting without analysis or explanation the Riwoche County Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs’s assertion that public order was disrupted.

The context behind the law the court applies is more important than the court’s hasty reasoning. Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk were sentenced under an interpretation of Art. 293(2) of the criminal code that made undermining public order by cursing other people through the internet illegal. Frequently, this crime is referred to as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The court’s implication that the victim’s frequent petitioning undermined public order demonstrated how broadly this law can be interpreted. The law is frequently used to target human rights activist, including Cao Shunli, who died earlier this year because of her treatment in prison. In practice, the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble law” and the interpretation of it applying it to internet communications criminalizes almost all conduct. It then enables the selective enforcement of the law to target people the government wants to send to prison.

Not much is known about Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk or why they specifically were targeted. However, the picture they shared touched on a politically sensitive issue for the Chinese government. At the Kalachakra Empowerment Ceremony in 2006, the Dalai Lama called on Tibetans to stop using animal skins as a means of preserving the environment. When Tibetans returned to Tibet they burned their fur clothing and stopped wearing fur clothing, like the leopard chupa featured in the pictures. Shortly after the Tibetans began burning and boycotting fur clothing the Wildlife Protection Society of India noticed a drop in the price for fur products from Tibet as the demand decreased.

The Chinese government, who was already arresting people, including Jigme Gyatso, as they returned from Kalachakra ceremony, suspected the people were colluding with the Dalai Lama. As a result, the police stopped a burning of furs at a monastery and arrested eight people. This context may have shaped how the local government viewed Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk’s naming and shaming of Tibetans who still wear fur. If the only reason for their conviction was that they exposed people who were wearing fur clothing, then the irony of the conviction cannot be missed. The convictions came shortly before the WTO rejected the PRC’s misleading argument that it was limiting the export of rare earth minerals for environmental reasons and to prevent illegal mining. This means that while the PRC was claiming to protect the environment before the WTO, it sentenced two people to prison for trying to protect the environment and discourage poaching in Tibet.

Endotes:

[1] Article 5(1) states: “Use of information networks to berate or intimidate others, where the circumstances are repugnant and social order is undermined, shall be convicted and punished as the crime of provocation and causing disturbances in accordance with the provisions of article 293(2) of the Criminal Law.” Translation available at http://chinalawtranslate.com/en/spc-and-spp-interpretation-on-internet-speech-crimes.

[2] Article 293(2) states: “Whoever undermines public order with anyone of the following provocative and disturbing behaviors is to be sentenced to not more than five years of fixed-term imprisonment, criminal detention, or control: (2) chasing, intercepting, or cursing another person, and the circumstances are bad” Official PRC translation available at: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/13/content_1384075.htm.

Below is the full translation of the court’s verdict as it appeared on the official Chinese website:

Riwoche County People’s Court Verdict in Criminal Case

(2014) First Court No. 03

Author: unknown


Source: County People Court


Page view: 42


Last update: 2014-8-18 16:32:07

Public Prosecutor: Riwoche County People’s Procuratorate, TAR

The accused, Jamyang Gyatso, male, Tibetan, born in December, 1981, 542124198112070119 [This is his Permanent Resident ID card number. (Tib: Yulmi Thobthang Lagkyer; Ch: Shen Feng Cheng)], literate in Tibetan, monk. He is registered in and lives in Wuran Village, Chakzamkha Township, Riwoche County, TAR. He was released on bail on December 20, 2013 on suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, and was arrested on January 2, 2014 by Public Security Bureau of Riwoche County, TAR. He has no previous criminal record.

The accused, Namgyal Wangchuk, male, Tibetan, born in February, 1970, 542124197002040117, literate in Tibetan, monk. He is registered in and lives in Wuran Village, Chakzamkha Township, Riwoche County, TAR. He was granted bail by on December 20, 2013 on suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, and was arrested on January 2, 2014 by Public Security Bureau of Riwoche County, TAR. He has no previous criminal record.

Riwoche County People’s Procuratorate, TAR in the Riwoche Procuratorate Criminal Prosecution Indictment (2014) 03 charged the accused Jamyang Gyatso and Namgyal Wangchuk of the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble and on May 4, 2014 filed the indictment in this court. After accepting the case, this court according to law assembled the court and held an open court session to try the case. Riwoche County People’s Procuratorate, TAR sent Prosecutor Jampa Chodrak and Deputy Prosecutor Dorje Wangdue to prosecute the indictment. The accused Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk came to participate in the hearing. The trial has now concluded.

Riwoche County People’s Procuratorate, TAR alleges that, in September 2013, the accused Jamyang Wangtsok added three insulting Tibetan on the picture of the victim Wangtse and Sonam Tsewang wearing chupa with leopard fur, and sent it to the WeChat group “Family Reunion”, which is composed of 15 members. On September 20, 2013, the accused Namgyal Wangchuk also chose a few photo of people wearing chupa with animal fur, combined them into a picture, added insulting Tibetan texts, and sent it into the “Family Reunion” WeChat group; the members in the group forwarded the picture to many different WeChat groups. The action of the accused resulted in a large amount of petitioning to the higher levels and caused the “2.02” (probably date and month of the incident) Incident, seriously disturbed the social order, and caused vile effects to the society.

In order to determine the criminal facts, the public prosecutor provided the evidences below as proof: the deposition of the accused, the census registration certification of the accused, the testimony of witnesses, the two mobile phones used to committed this offense, the deposition of identification, and the certifications provided by the Riwoche County Bureau of Ethnic and Religious affairs, TAR, the Darze Village Working Group of Jikto Township, Chakzamkha Township Party Committee and government.

The public prosecutor believes that, the accused Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk illegally, edited the insulting texts with mobile applications, and forwarded them massively through the mobile messaging services . These actions were the severe violation of the social order, and caused extremely harmful effects on the society. According to the Art. 5.1 of “Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of Law in the Handling of Defamation through Information Networks and Other Criminal Cases”, if the action has constituted the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, the criminal responsibility should be held as such. On the measurement of penalty, since the accused Jamyang Wangtso has edited the insulting texts on others’ photos with the mobile application repeatedly, it’s suggested that he should be sentenced for 7 to eight years for Jamyang Wangtso, and 4 to 5 years for Namgyal Wangshuk.

The accused Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk had no objection on the facts of the crime as alleged by the public prosecutor, but they believed that the suggestion of penalty is too serious, and requested for reduction of penalty.

During the trial, it became clear that in September 2013, the accused Jamyang Wangtso had received an edited photo from the monk Choeying Palden, who lived in Neten Monastery, India. The photo contained the image of the victims Wangtse and Bhuchung wearing chupas with leopard fur, with the texts “The meat-stealer of Chakzamkha Monastery, the scum of the Tibetan community, I’m the jackass” edited below. He asked the accused Jamyang Wangtso, “Who are they? We have to humiliate them.” Therefore the accused Jamyang Wangtso immediately edited the word “This jackass is Wangtse and another is Bhuchung” on the photo, and forwarded it to the 15-member WeChat group “Family Reunion”. On the next day, the accused Jamyang Wangtso reedited the content of the text to add the insulting words “We’re the scum” on the photo, and sent it again to the WeChat group. In the end of September, 2013, the accused Jamyang Wangtso chose a photo of girls gathering together dancing from the photos he received from WeChat group, and added the insulting words “Some Tibetans born in Tibet don’t protect our own national traditions; in the next century, they’ll be worried about turning into other nations.” And he sent it to the WeChat group “Family Reunion” again.

On September 20, 2013, the accused Namgyal Wangchuk received the original photos of Wangtse and Bhuchung wearing chupa with fur. He then chose 4 of them, using the application “Mei Tu Xiu Xiu” to combine them into one, and edited the insulting content of “Good environment needs trees, and trees need wild animals for company. Please care for them with compassion, don’t kill them brutally for meat and fur.” And he sent the picture to the WeChat group “Family Reunion”. The members of the group found out later that the picture had been forwarded massively among the WeChat groups.

The actions of the accused resulted in the large amount of petitioning to the higher levels by the victims, and caused the “2.02” Incident. It seriously disturbed the standard working procedures of the state institutions and the social orders, and caused vile effects to the society.

The evidence supporting the facts mentioned above were: 1. The deposition of the accused Jamyang Wangtso confirmed the criminal facts that he used the mobile network to edit the insulting Tibetan texts 3 times, and sent them to the WeChat group. 2. The deposition of the accused Namgyal Wangchuk, confirmed the facts that he used the mobile application “Mei Tu Xiu Xiu” for combining 4 photos into one, editing the insulting texts, and sent it to the WeChat group. 3. The census registration certifications of the accused have confirmed that both accused have reached the age of full criminal responsibility. 4. The ZTE and TCH brand mobile phones of were confirmed to be the tools used to commit this offense by the accused Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk during the trial. 5. The certifications provided by the Riwoche County Bureau of Ethnic and Religious affairs, TAR, the Darze Village Working Group of Jikto Township, Chakzamkha Township Party Committee and government, have confirmed the effects of the accused’s behaviour.

The evidences above are all from legal sources, and they went into the completed evidence chain, through the inquiry and certification procedure on the trial, the criminal facts, the process and the serious result can all be proved. The court accepted the evidence as reliable.

The court believes that, the accused Jamyang Wangtso and Namgyal Wangchuk intentionally edited the insulting texts with mobile applications on another person’s photo, and forwarded them massively through the mobile message networks. These actions resulted in a large amount of petitioning to the higher levels by the victims, and there were the severe violation of the social orders, and caused extremely harmful effects. According to the Paragraph 1, Article 5 of “Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on Several Issues concerning the Specific Application of Law in the Handling of Defamation through Information Networks and Other Criminal Cases”, both their actions had constituted the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, the facts of the crime alledged by the public prosecutor are clear, the evidences are certain and adequate, and the application of the laws are accurate, so the court accepts. Also, the suggestion of the penalty measurement are appropriate, so the court accepts it. Since the accused Jamyang Wangtso has edited the insulting texts on another person’s photos with the mobile application 3 times and forwarded them massively, the court determines it as the actions happened “repeatedly”, and decides to punish him severely. In order to stabilize the social situation, and protect the social orders of our county, according to the Art. 13.1.(2), Art. 13.2, and Art. 64 of Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, the court makes the following verdict:

1. The accused Jamyang Wangtso, for the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, is sentenced to prison for 7 years.
(The sentence is to be served from the day of sentencing, with deduction for time in confinement on a day for day basis, that is from January 2, 2014 to January 1, 2021.)
2. The accused Namgyal Wangchuk, for the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, is sentenced to prison for 5 years.
(The sentence is to be served from the day of sentencing, with deduction for time in confinement on a day for day basis, that is from January 2, 2014 to January 1, 2019.)
3. The 2 mobile phones, as the tools to commit this offense, are to be confiscated.
If the accused doesn’t accept this judgement, an appeal can be made between the second day to the tenth day, either through this court or directly to the Chamdo Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court, TAR. The written appeal should be accompanied by the original verdict together with 2 copies.

Tashi Phuntsok, Chief Judge
Jigme Palden, Assistant Judge
Sun Feng-Chin, Assistant Judge

May 23, 2014

Tsering Nyima, Court Clerk