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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Changing tide. Karma Samdrup's sentence confirmed

August 7, 2010

August 5, 2010
ISSN: 1864-1407

The unexpectedly swift rejection on 07 July 2010
of Tibetan environmentalist Karma Samdrup's
appeal against his 15-year prison sentence seem
to confirm that, personal differences aside, he
and his family have fallen victims of a general
reconfiguration of the security status quo in the
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and in particular
a reconsideration of the role of local NGOs. It
results from a strain that has been looming since
the fur burning events of 2006 and has become a
major concern for the authorities following the
unrest of 2008. Directly or indirectly linked, it
also represents the flipside of a realignment of
the law and order apparatus around Padma Choling,
the new TAR governor, that could hardly take
place without the ascent of Hu Jintao.
Associated Press (AP) reported on 02 August 2010,
that Karma Samdrup's appeal against the sentence,
passed down to him on 25 June for alleged grave
robbing and related crimes, was rejected by the
Intermediate Court of Bayingolin Mongol
Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang. His lawyer, Pu
Zhiqiang, learned about it only on Monday 01
August 2010, i.e. after a delay of more than
three weeks. Pu complained that neither the
rejection itself, the surprising pace it came at,
nor the delay in informing him were justified. AP
quoted him as saying, "I don't know why they're
in a such a hurry. What are they afraid of? What
are they trying to cover up?" Pu had already
outlined a string of legal irregularities that have characterised the case.

Hopes of some friends of Karma Samdrup that the
higher authorities might intervene and impose
some sort of informal face-saving solution did
not materialise. There are precedents for
sentences being substantially shortened in
exchange for waiving an appeal. If such a deal
was proposed, Karma Samdrup might in theory have
rejected it. However, such considerations remain
totally speculative at the present time.

The suppression of the Samdrup family coincides
with the ascent of the new governor of the TAR,
Padma Choling (aka Baima Chiling, aka Pema
Tinley), whose main task is to look after 'social
harmony'(1). Padma Choling's personal authority
appears to have been strengthened by his
energetic handling of the 'floating population'
in Lhasa, i.e. of impoverished Tibetan rural
migrants who were key players in the violence of
14 March 2008 in the Tibetan capital(2). He was
present during many law and order situations
following that - for example, after the
earthquake in Damshung – and various protests
etc. He replaced Qiangba Phuncog in January 2010,
two years earlier than expected.

Although Beijing has essentially maintained its
strategy of top down, state sponsored, 'leapfrog'
development since 2008, there has been a degree
of recognition that social issues were partly
responsible for the unrest and some measures have
been launched to mitigate some of the negative
effects of government policies. An accommodating
approach was however flanked by more aggressive
policing of the Tibetan population(3). In
contrast to his more reserved and low key
predecessor, Qiangba Puncog, Padma Choling
represents both sturdiness and a populist touch,
qualities that he has exploited in his dealings
with the 'floating population'. He appears
therefore to best embody the new approach in
managing Tibetans. Padma Choling was also
expected to mediate in a bitter conflict between
a major mining project and the local population
in Chamdo's Markham county in April 2009(4). He
was, however, forced to withdraw by the protestors.

Like Karma Samdrup and his family, Padma Choling,
and with him most of those in his personal
network, hail from Chamdo prefecture(5), where
they must at some point have been confronted with
the ubiquitous environmental activities of the Samdrup brothers(6).

Concerns about the environment in Tibet,
corruption amongst the leadership and the link
between both in the early 2000s moved Beijing to
tolerate and, at times, even subtly foster
'reasonable' local environmental initiatives as
informal instruments with which to provide checks
and balances for prefecture and county levels of
government. It is this move that has made
grassroots Tibetan civil society possible and has
allowed it to carefully but vigorously grow in
the past decade. These types of movements were
championed by Karma Samdrup and his brother
Rinchen. Environmental activists and NGOs, or
even ad hoc single-issue bodies, could present
claims and succeed with some of their demands by
insisting that progressive environmental laws be
implemented in effect by local authorities. They
had to remain clearly 'law abiding' though,
however ambiguous the concept is in a context
where, ultimately, the Party retains the
prerogative to define or redefine rules and
interpret them according to its perceived needs.
This could still provide a narrow space within
which local governments appeared accountable, if
not to the people, at least to a set of rules,
and the model seemed fairly promising for a
while. It allowed, for example, the fur burning
events of 2006 to happen without major friction.

The removal of Karma Samdrup and his entourage
indicates however that the margin for tolerance
was widely wiped out following the events of
2008. Local NGOs in Tibet have had their role in
a specific context; but in the post-2008
scenario, that context has been redefined by new
priorities. What was up until recently seen as a
meaningful step towards better governance in
Tibetan regions is now a potential security
threat. Under this new perspective, the Chinese
authorities do not seem anymore willing to accept
networks that escape the total control of the
state. Naturally, as in any purge, some other
more personal scores are also being settled. But
as a whole, the sequence of events over about one
year documents a gradual transformation of the
security scenario that led to the dramatic rise
of Padma Choling and his network and the downfall
of Karma Samdrup and his entourage. In August
2009, Karma Samdrup's two brothers were arrested;
in January 2010, he was arrested. In the same
month, Padma Choling became TAR governor. In
March, cousins of Karma Samdrup were arrested. In
May, the Chinese mining company who had been
forced to withdraw in 2009 returned to Markham,
this time with more assertive support from the local authorities.

Moreover, as the accusations against Karma
Samdrup's relatives show, activities which had
been long tolerated are now interpreted as direct
challenges against the established order. The
only exception is Karma Samdrup himself, who was
not charged with anything of a political nature.
This, however, matches a recurring pattern in
Tibetan regions, where the leaders of popular
movements are made to fall on the basis of
non-political and often dubious accusations.
These are probably in order to de-politicise the
situation and to demonstrate to their followers
that the authorities do not need clear evidence
to dismiss those that they disapprove of.

A general consternation and unease among members
of the civil society which sources inside Tibet
currently report show that this strategy of
'killing the chicken to scare the monkey' has
been well-understood and the message well taken.

The rise and fall of Karma Samdup and his relatives -- A timeline (incomplete)

1995:  Karma Samdrup establishes the Medong
Village Primary School in Zerong township, Gonjo county, Chamdo

1998:  Karma Samdrup sets up the first Tibetan
medicine shop in Guangdong and established a
local office of the Tibet Development Fund (TDF)

1999:  Karma Samdrup Promotes and sponsors Health schemes in Chamdo

2000:  Karma Samdrup Establishes the County Tibetan Medical Hospital of Gongjo

2001:  Karma Samdrup nominated Model Worker of the Tibet Autonomous Region

March 2002: Establishment of the Snowland Great
Rivers Environmental Protection Association (SGREPA)

April 2002: Vice-secretary of SGREPA received the
sixth Earth Award from Friends of the Earth, Hong Kong

July-August 2002: First survey on community
environment, Culture & Education, health care,
folk-custom and transportation by students of diverse Beijing Universities

October 2002: Karma Samdrup invited to attend the
Global Environment Facility Assembly (GEF) Conference held in Beijing

Early 2003: 2003 under Rinchen Samdrup
leadership, eleven Tibetan villages establish the
Kham Anchong Sangge Nanzhong Environmental Protection Voluntary Association

April 2003: Start of the project Jiesang Suonam
Darjie Environmental Education Mobile Vehicle

March 2004: Karma Samdrup attends an
international UN peace conference in New York;

March 2004: Vice-secretary of SGREPA attends the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in Alexandria, Egypt

May 2004: Karma Samdrup attends the fourth Global Social Forum in Bombay, India

July-August 2004: Karma Samdrup conducts research
about holy mountain and sacred lakes across Tibetan areas

Summer 2004: Samdrups' village organisations
plant 800,000 seabuckthorn bushes in Gonjo County for the government

October 2004: Start of the Green Community Network

March 2005: Start of Green Cradle project in five Schools

August 2005: Green Township and village
eco-culture festival conducted in Dengcheng village

2005: Karma Samdrup introduces Taiwan's Cixin
Cishan Charity Foundation to Education Bureau of
TAR resulting in the establishment of four
Primary Schools in Dengchen, Gongjo, Chamdo and Jiamda counties

2005: Rinchen Samdrup wins the first Alashan
Environmental Award, the Hu Yang Prize

1 December 2005:  Rinchen Samdrup and others pass
the Kangding Initiative for a communal voluntary
model of environmental protection:

2006 Woeser publishes an article titled 'Karma,
'King of Heavenly Beads'', about Karma Samdrup in
the Southern Weekend newspaper

2006: Rinchen Samdrup's environmental and
cultural work received an award from Jet Li's One Foundation

2006: Karma Samdrup plans and prepares Company
for Research and Development of Tibetan Traditional Culture;

2006: State broadcaster CCTV declares Karma
Samdrup 'Philanthropist of the Year'

October 2006: Rinchen Samdrup's environmental and
cultural work receives an award from the Ford
Motor Company Conservation and Environment Protection Grants (China)

October - December 2006: Vice-secretary of SGREPA
conducts investment in wildlife co-operation with
Tibet Biology Research Centre and Qinghai Provincial Forest Bureau

December 2006: Vice-secretary of SGREPA wins the
2006 CCTV Annual Economy Talent Public Welfare award

March 2009: Rinchen Samdrup's short film
'Self-Initiative' is included in the South of the
Clouds Photography and Documentary Exhibition

7 August 2009:  Rinchen Samdrup and Jigme Namgyal detained

13 November 2009: Administrative sentencing of Jigme Namgyal

December 2009: Sonam Choephel sentenced to one
and a half years of re-education through labour
(RTL) for petitioning in Beijing against the
detention of Rinchen Samdrup and Jigme Namgyal

03 January 2010: Karma Samdrup arrested in Chengdu

03 February 2010: Feng Yongfeng article about
Karma and Rinchen Samdrup published in China Environment News

March 2010: Rinchen Dorje arrested.

27 May 2010: Karma Samdrup's lawyer Pu Zhiqiang
is informed the trial would be held on 01 June

31 May 2010: Karma Samdrup first permitted to meet his lawyers

3 June 2010: The authorities shut down Dolkar
Tso's, (Karma Samdrup's wife), web page where she
posted 'The Epic behind Heavenly Beads' and the
notifications she had received from the court.

11 June 2010: Jigme Namgyal transferred to hospital

20-24 June 2010: Karma Samdrup's court hearing

22 June 2010: Dolkar Tso writes 'Praying' - an
account of the first day of the trial of Karma Samdrup

23 June 2010: 'Praying' is published on Dolkar
Tso's blog. But deleted after a few hours

25 June 2010: Dolkar Tso writes a letter of
appeal written to government officials, it is
posted online on the blog of Karma Samdrup's lawyer but is soon inaccessible

26 June 2010: Dolkar Tso's second blog is closed down

29 June 2010: Dolkar Tso's letter of appeal is re-posted on Woeser's blog

3 July 2010: Dolkar Tso's third blog is closed down

3 July 2010: Rinchen Samdrup is sentenced to five years prison.

5 July 2010: Tashi Topgyal arrested

6 July 2010: Dolkar Tso's new blog is set up

7 July 2010: Karma Samdrup's appeal rejected

23 July 2010: Dolkar Tso publishes 'Going home' on her blog

27 July 2010: Karma Samdrup's lawyer is informed about rejection of the appeal
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