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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

China now pressuring Tibetans outside politics

June 24, 2010

The Associated Press
JUne 19, 2010

BEIJING -- Karma Samdrup was always the kind of
Tibetan the Chinese government liked.

The antiques dealer's cultural and environmental
preservation efforts won national awards and
praise, and he stayed out of the region's highly
charged politics. But next week he'll stand trial
on what rights groups say is a trumped-up charge
of grave-robbing amid the largest crackdown on
Tibetan intellectuals since the Cultural Revolution.

China's government has grown increasingly
sensitive about Tibet in the two years since
rioting in the regional capital of Lhasa left 22
people dead and led to the most sustained Tibetan
uprising against Chinese rule in decades. Violent
clashes and demonstrations swept Tibetan towns
throughout western China, where occasional
protests still continue, and security remains extremely tight.

Now, activist groups say a growing number of
Tibetan intellectuals are coming under pressure
from authorities determined to squelch all forms of dissent.

The government has always sought to silence
critics of China's policies in Tibet, where a
debate rages over how much autonomy, from
religious freedom to outright independence, the
Himalayan region deserves. But now officials
appear to be expanding their reach and targeting
even those previously considered allies or at least innocuous.

Karma Samdrup used to be in the latter group.
State-run China Central Television named the
stocky 42-year-old the country's philanthropist
of the year in 2006 for "creating harmony between
men and nature" with his environmental efforts in
Tibetan areas. The same year, China's most
prominent weekly newspaper, Southern Weekend,
hailed him as the "Tibetan bead king" for his large collection of amulet beads.

The trouble began last year.

Karma Samdrup's two brothers, fellow
environmentalists, were detained in August after
accusing local officials in eastern Tibet of
poaching endangered animals. They were accused of
running an illegal environmental group and
stirring up local protests, and they have not
been released. Human Rights Watch says one
brother, Rinchen Samdrup, is serving a 21-month
sentence of re-education through labor for "harming national security."

On January 3, plainclothes police detained Karma
Samdrup as well. Officials later said he was
being charged in the neighboring region of
Xinjiang with "excavating ancient cultural relics
and tombs" -- a complaint that dates to 1998,
when he was accused of dealing in items allegedly
looted from archaeological sites. At the time, he
was released on bail and police never pursued the charge.

"There's something unusual and disturbing about
this case," said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar
at Columbia University. "China has often been
accused of using aggressive laws to silence
critics, particularly in Tibet, but there's no
record of this family of Tibetan
environmentalists criticizing China's policies.
In fact they've been widely written about in China as model citizens."

Barnett said the case could be a sign that the
wide latitude public security officials in Tibet
have been given to deal with suspected
separatists is leading to abuses of power.

Karma Samdrup's supporters say the 1998 charge
has been revived to punish him for trying to defend his two brothers.

"Absolutely fabricated," said a Chinese writer
who closely follows Tibetan issues, Wang Lixiong.

But the case does have some worrying recent precedent.

Last month, the Washington-based International
Campaign for Tibet published a report saying 31
Tibetans are now in prison "after reporting or
expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or
simply sharing information about Chinese
government policies and their impact in Tibet today."

The report said it was the first time since the
end of China's chaotic Cultural Revolution in
1976 that there has been such a targeted campaign
against Tibetan singers, artists and writers who
peacefully express their views.

In another recent case, a writer named Tagyal --
who was seen by fellow Tibetans as an "official
intellectual" for usually toeing the Communist
Party's line -- was detained in April after
signing an open letter critical of the Chinese
government's earthquake relief efforts in a Tibetan region of Qinghai province.

Karma Samdrup's trial begins Tuesday in the Yanqi
county court in Xinjiang. Theft of cultural
relics in China carries a maximum penalty of life
in prison or death, but his lawyer Pu Zhiqiang
said Friday he was not expecting such a harsh sentence.

Still, Pu is concerned. He said he's only been
able to meet Karma Samdrup twice, most recently
for about 40 minutes, while police watched and
videotaped. The court would not let him photocopy
the case file on Karma Samdrup.

"He was noticeably thinner -- 20 to 30 kilograms
(44 to 66 pounds) thinner," Pu said. "I could
hardly recognize him. Before that, he looked like
Genghis Khan. But he was in good spirits."

Karma Samdrup will plead not guilty, Pu said.

Calls to the court rang unanswered Friday.
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