THE BLOG

Protecting the Environment Can Cost You Your Freedom

08/05/2010 02:16 pm 14:16:26 | Updated May 25, 2011

While I was in India for the past four and a half months, two events were happening simultaneously: BP's oil spill, and the trials for Karma Samdrup and his brothers.

New stories abounded for the oil spill, and concerned citizens took action. Some of my friends were cutting jersey to help clean oil-soaked wildlife, others circulated pictures and participated in BP boycotts.

On the other side of the world, three brothers active in environmental protection were arrested in Tibet "following charges that are believed to have been rigged after their efforts to stop the poaching of endangered species clashed with the local authorities."

As I watched BP's gross neglect unfold, and followed the brothers' case in Tibet, I felt again that familiar nausea I get when faced with major injustices. On one side of the world citizens could protest, they could protest against a corporation, against the vendors that sold its products, and against the government and drilling policies.

But on the other side of the world, three brothers who worked to plant trees, pick up litter and protect animals from illegal hunters are arrested, tortured and illegally sentenced without lawyers. Their families and supporters have been beaten and tortured.

International Campaign for Tibet has compiled a full report, along with recommendations on action. I cannot pretend to present the facts any better than they already have in a new report released today.

Please use your voice to protect the HUMAN RIGHTS of those who serve to protect the environment.

Excerpts from ICT's report:

Lawyers for Karma Samdrup, a leading Tibetan environmentalist and philanthropist sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on June 24 on highly dubious charges of involvement in a 12-year old case of grave robbing, learned yesterday that his appeal was summarily rejected on July 7 - the same day the court had received the case file. The court had neglected to inform either his lawyers or Karma Samdrup's wife of its decision.

Karma Samdrup is one of three brothers who are all now either imprisoned or serving "re-education through labor" following charges that are believed to have been rigged after their efforts to stop the poaching of endangered species clashed with the local authorities.

Karma Samdrup's elder brother, the environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup, was sentenced on July 3 to five years. Karma Samdrup, who founded the Snowlands Three Rivers Environmental Protection Group, told the court that he had been severely tortured in detention. Their disabled brother Chime Namgyal is serving 21 months in a labor camp, and can no longer walk or eat without assistance after being tortured. The brothers' mother was seriously injured after she was beaten unconscious by armed police who were detaining them, and 20 villagers who petitioned on behalf of the brothers were interrogated and tortured.

President of the International Campaign for Tibet Mary Beth Markey said: "These cases testify to the politicization of the Chinese legal system and should have a chilling effect on any person or entity seeking to engage China on the basis of rules-based procedures and agreements. Governments who see China as an important player on global issues, including on environmental issues, should take a hard look at these cases. They are indicative of China's inability and unwillingness to provide legal protection to anyone that runs afoul of political interests."

The three brothers were previously acclaimed even in the Chinese state-run media as model citizens and pillars of their local community, and there is no evidence that they were involved in any political activities. Their imprisonment and the weakness of the charges against them are indicative of the current repressive climate and crackdown against secular society in Tibet, in which the Chinese authorities are becoming more aggressive and inventive at using the law and courts to serve political purposes rather than upholding justice.

As a result of their detentions, there has been a detrimental impact on environmental conservation work in the three brothers' home area. Led by Rinchen Samdrup, hundreds of villagers had been engaged in litter collection, monitoring illegal hunting, and planting hundreds of thousands of trees. The brothers' village is in the Yangtze River watershed, so Chinese conservationists regard tree-planting there as not only essential for the local environment, but also for the protection of water and soil on the upper reaches of the Yangtze. With the detention of Rinchen Samdrup and now Tashi Topgyal, one of the best-educated Tibetans in the local community, the work is no longer continuing and local Tibetans in the area are said to be frightened and intimidated.

The mother of the three brothers, who is in her mid-seventies, was seriously injured and treated in hospital after being beaten unconscious when armed police detained two of her sons from home on August 7 last year, according to new information from the area. The same sources say that she was unconscious for several hours and taken to hospital in Yushu in neighboring Qinghai Province by relatives where she had to undergo an operation. The police officers who beat her were led by Chamdo Prefecture Deputy Party Secretary Chen Yue, who is believed to be still in the same position.

Twenty villagers from Gonjo county in Chamdo, the brothers' home area, were detained in Chamdo, interrogated and tortured for 40 days after they went to Beijing to petition against the brothers' detention.

The full report is available here at www.savetibet.org