PAUL J. MOONEY

Freelance Journalist

SCMP, 2010

I was tortured daily, says Tibetan in first appearance in six months

BY PAUL MOONEY

Karma Samdrup, a prominent Tibetan businessman and environmentalist arrested under strange circumstances in January, appeared in a court yesterday showing signs of severe beatings and claiming that he had been tortured during nearly six months of detention. 

Tibet experts say the case is another example of the central government's crackdown against prominent Tibetan figures, a policy that they say is worsening ties that have been strained since violence erupted in Tibet in March 2008.

When his wife saw him at the trial, the first time she had seen him since January 3, she was shocked. 

During the hearing, the businessman said the torture that had been used to make him confess included police beatings during the day, prisoner beatings in the evening, being given drugs that made his nose and mouth bleed, and being hung in the air for several hours at a time. He had lost about 15kg.

The trial would resume today. 

Karma Samdrup's two brothers - Rinchen Samdrup and Jigme Namgyal, also environmentalists - were detained in August on charges of establishing an illegal NGO and an environmental journal.

Rinchen Samdrup was to be sentenced on Thursday on more serious charges of subverting state security, but the hearing was postponed indefinitely. Jigme Namgyal, who is handicapped, is serving a 21-month re-education-through-labour sentence for 'harming national security'. Under this system, people who have committed 'minor offences' can be sent to labour camps for up to three years without a trial.  

The trouble started in 2008 after the group the brothers set up in their village in Changdu prefecture in Tibet began to call attention to alleged environmental abuses by local officials, including police officers hunting protected species.

Officials became upset after villagers began to petition local and central government offices. The officials apparently believed the brothers were the behind-the-scenes organisers of the petition.

The arrest of Karma Samdrup, 42, came as a surprise. He is one of the biggest private dealers of Tibetan antiques - nicknamed the 'King of Heavenly Beads' for his collection of this traditional Tibetan artefact - and was profiled in Southern Weekend in 2006, the same year China Central Television named him philanthropist of the year. 

About five years ago, Karma Samdrup set up the Qinghai Three River Environmental Protection Group, which won awards for its work, including a 1 million yuan (HK$1.1 million) grant from the One Foundation, a charity set up by the Hong Kong martial arts movie star Jet Li. It also was given the Earth Prize. 

Karma Samdrup had at first resisted going public about his brothers. 'Karma Samdrup felt he could use his power and influence to get his brothers released,' said Woeser, a prominent Tibetan poet and blogger. 'He wanted to do this privately. But he was arrested.' 

Karma Samdrup was detained on January 3 in Chengdu, Sichuan, by Xinjiang police on charges of buying artefacts illegally taken from graves, a crime he was accused of in 1998, but the charges were dropped. 

The treatment of the prominent family has raised concerns. 'These are prominent people who there was no question had helped the state because they were hailed as model citizens, with no sign that we know of them criticising the state,' Professor Robbie Barnett, with Columbia University, said. 'And yet they're facing these extreme charges with no evidence to support them.'