Brothers Rinchen Samdrup, Jigme Namgyal, and Karma Samdrup (clockwise from top left) are now all in jail. Photos via the International Campaign for Tibet
Picking up trash and planting trees sounds about as uncontroversial as activism can get, but an internationally recognized Tibetan environmentalist who had been organizing local villagers to do just that has has been sentenced to five years in jail for "inciting to split the nation" -- a charge his supporters believe was trumped up after he accused a local police officer of poaching.Rinchen Samdrup, sentenced Saturday by a Chinese court, is the third brother in his family to be jailed, Reuters reported:
Mr. Samdrup ran an environmental group in the Tibet Autonomous Region near Sichuan Province that organized about 1,700 local villagers to reforest the area and report poaching, and also ran a small magazine. His group worked with international conservation groups and was praised by Chinese media.
'Philanthropist of the Year' Now in Prison
An article about the Dalai Lama on the activist's website caused him to run afoul of the law, but the rounding up of the whole family makes it hard to believe there aren't other forces at work in Samdrup's jailing. His brother Karma Samdrup, who had tried to defend Rinchen and their other sibling, was sentenced last month to 15 years in jail "for excavating and robbing ancient tombs, a charge originally brought and dropped in 1998," Reuters said. Karma Samdrup had been praised domestically for founding a prizewinning NGO that seeks to protect the Tibetan plateau, and was even named "philanthropist of the year" by the state broadcaster for his environmental efforts, Time reported in June.
Youngest brother Jigme Namgyal was sentenced late last year to 21 months in a labor camp for "endangering state security" by helping Rinchen Samdrup run his environmental group:
The court found [Namgyal] had helped compile three audio-visual disks on the ecology of the region, possessed materials regarding the Dalai Lama, incited locals to interfere with government work and tried to register the group with the government.
According to the International Campaign for Tibet, all three brothers "were previously acclaimed even in the Chinese state-run media as model citizens and pillars of their local community. There is no evidence that they were involved in any political activities." Rinchen had even been praised in the state-run media for his environmental work, which the journalist who wrote the piece said was "helpful to the government's aims of ecological protection."
Human Rights Watch has called for the release of all three brothers.
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