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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China: Drop Charges Against Tibetan Environmental Philanthropist

June 15, 2010

Trumped-Up Case Against Karma Samdrup Follows Imprisonment of Relatives
Human Rights Watch
June 10, 2010

(New York -- The Chinese government should
immediately release two Tibetan environmentalists
held on trumped up charges for running an
environmental group in their village, and should
drop charges made against their brother, Karma
Samdrup, after he tried to protest their
detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

The two environmentalists, Jigme Namgyal and
Rinchen Samdrup, have been in detention in Tibet
since August 2009. Karma Samdrup, a prominent
Tibetan environmental philanthropist, one of
China’s leading collectors of Tibetan art, and
founder of the award-winning Three Rivers
Environmental Protection group, was seeking his
brothers’ release and was himself arrested on
January 3, 2010, on charges of robbing graves
that date back to 1998. His trial was initially
scheduled for June 1, but was postponed at the
last minute without explanations from the court,
which has yet to set a new date for his trial.

"These are test cases for the Chinese
government," said Sophie Richardson, Asia
advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "These
people embody the characteristics the government
says it wants in modern Tibetans – economically
successful, lending support to only approved
cultural and environmental pursuits, and
apolitical -- yet they, too, are being treated as criminals."

Karma Samdrup, whose Chinese name is Rukai
Gamasangzhu, is one of the largest private
collectors of Tibetan antiques in China, as well
as a dealer in Tibetan art. He was nicknamed the
“King of Heavenly Beads” for his unparalleled
collection of this traditional Tibetan artifact.
He was the subject of a profile in the cultural
supplement of Chinese weekly Southern Weekend in
2006, and of a 2009 biography by the Chinese
journalist Liu Jianqiang, which was praised by the official news agency Xinhua.

In the mid-2000s, Karma Samdrup financed an
environmental protection organization, the
Qinghai Three River Environmental Protection
group, after the Chinese government began a
massive effort to protect the environment of the
Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Over the years, the
group has won several awards for its work,
including a one million yuan (about US$130,000)
grant as a "Model Project” from the One
Foundation, a charity created by the Chinese
martial art movie star Jet Li; and the Earth
Prize, an environmental prize jointly
administered by Friends of the Earth Hong Kong and the Ford Motor company.

Karma Samdrup was arrested in Chengdu, Sichuan
Province, on January 3. Police informed his wife,
Zhenga, several days later that he was being
detained on charges of robbing graves in Yanji
County, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,
dating back to 1998. The police said that Karma
Samdrup had acquired a number of artifacts
allegedly looted from local archeological sites.
The charges had been dropped by the police at the
time after Karma Samdrup showed that he had a
government license to trade in cultural relics.
The maximum sentence for the crime of "excavating
ancient cultural relics and tombs" under Chinese law is the death penalty.

Human Rights Watch said that Karma Samdrup’s case
showed serious and repeated violations of China’s own criminal procedure law:

Karma Samdrup was denied the right to meet
anyone, including his lawyers, for more than six months after his arrest.

· The Yanji court did not allow adequate time for
the preparation of Karma Samdrup’s defense. His
lawyers, from the Huayi law firm in Beijing, were
told on May 27 that the trial would be held on
June 1. The court refused the firm’s written request for a postponement.

·  The court refused to allow Karma Samdrup’s
lawyers to photocopy the 70-page prosecution file
to prepare his defense, insisting that the
lawyers could only “copy excerpts” of it.

· Karma Samdrup was not permitted to meet any of
his lawyers until the eve of his trial, May 31.
That meeting lasted only 30 minutes, and was
monitored by police officers in the room. Karma
Samdrup’s lawyer reported that he had found Karma
Samdrup in poor spirits but had no opportunity to
ask whether he had been ill-treated.

· The trial was suddenly postponed, with no new
date for the trial given by the court.

On June 3, the authorities shut down the web page
Karma Samdrup’s wife had posted the previous day.
The site featured the notifications she had received from the court.

"The charges against and treatment of Karma
Samdrup don’t even meet the minimum procedural
guarantees provided under Chinese law,”
Richardson said. “But instead of dropping the
charges, the authorities keep him in detention.”

Karma Samdrup’s relatives and friends believe
that the revival of the decade-old charges stems
from his efforts to gain the release of his two
brothers, Rinchen Samdrup and Jigme Namgyal. The
two brothers were arrested in August 2009, after
the local environmental protection group they had
created in their home village, in Changdu
prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, had tried to
bring attention to various alleged environmental
abuses by local officials, including the hunting of protected species.

To date, Rinchen Samdrup is still being held in
custody, while Jigme Namgyal is serving a
21-month re-education-through-labor (RTL)
sentence for “harming national security.” Under
China’s RTL system, offenders who have committed
“minor offenses that do not warrant criminal
punishment” can be sent to labor camps for up to
three years without the benefit of a trial or the
right to be represented by a lawyer.

In the November 13, 2009 decision that lead to
Jigme Namgyal’s sentence, the RTL management
committee from Changdu prefecture alleged that he
had set up an illegal environmental organization
that “illegally collected three digital disks of
information and video footage about the
environment, the natural resources and the
religion of Changdu prefecture … provided
pictures and material for the illegal publication
‘Forbidden Mountain, Prohibited Hunting’ --
privately collected some propaganda material from
the Dalai clique -- and organized the local
residents into irregular petitioning of the
authorities" therefore severely interfering with
state power organizations at the local level and
effectively harming social stability.”

The description of the charges suggests that
Jigme Namgyal was a cause of potential
embarrassment to the local authorities rather
than a threat to national security, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch said that the trial of Karma
Samdrup and the arrest of his two brothers
reflected the increasing vulnerability of
important cultural and entrepreneurial Tibetan
figures to politically motivated arrests and prosecutions.

"Arbitrarily detaining and denying due process to
Tibetans will do nothing but stoke the tensions
between them and the Chinese government,”
Richardson said. “Instead of addressing the
long-standing grievances that led to the massive
protests in 2008 the government is responding with more pervasive repression.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on China and Tibet, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In Hong Kong, Nicholas Bequelin (English, French,
Mandarin): +852-8198-1040 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English,
Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
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