China sentences Tibetan activist to 15 years in prison


Beijing : A Chinese court has sentenced a Tibetan businessman and environmentalist to 15 years in prison after convicting him of stealing cultural relics, his lawyer said Friday.

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Karma Samdrup, 42, denied the charges against him, which dated back to 1998 and were previously dropped by police, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said in a statement.

Supporters of Karma Samdrup said the charges against him were politically motivated and that police had tortured him during their interrogation.

The Yanqi district court in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang found Karma Samdrup guilty of illegally obtaining cultural relics from graves in the ancient Loulan area of Xinjiang and inciting others to do the same, according to a copy of Thursday’s verdict posted online by Pu.

Pu said Karma Samdrup would “definitely appeal” the sentence, which he said was the maximum allowed for the offences under Chinese law.

“We didn’t have any time to collect evidence to refute the charges,” Pu told US-based radio Free Asia. “We didn’t even have time to review the court documents.”

“We were harassed during our meeting with Karma,” he added.

Karma Samdrup’s wife, Dolkar Tso, told the broadcaster the verdict was “unfair”.

“I asked for some time to meet and talk to my husband, but I was not allowed,” she was quoted as saying.

Before this week’s trial, Dolkar Tso wrote in her blog that her husband had told her of “hundreds of different cruel torture methods, maltreatment around the clock, hitherto unheard of torture instruments and drugs” that he had suffered in detention.

Karma Samdrup is a well-known collector of Tibetan art who was named philanthropist of the year by state television in 2006.

His two brothers were arrested in August on charges of running an illegal environmental group and inciting protests against local officials accused of killing endangered wildlife.

One of the brothers was sentenced to 21 months at a “re-education through labour” camp for “endangering national security,” US-based Human Rights Watch reported.

Karma Samdrup’s supporters believe the charges linked to his arrest in January were “trumped up to punish him for attempting to defend his brothers,” London-based Free Tibet said Friday.

“Karma’s arrest is part of a worrying trend in which cultural figures such as singers, bloggers and writers are being targeted by Chinese authorities as the state attempts to crack down on dissenting voices,” Free Tibet said in a statement.