Expanding Crime and Punishment in Tibet

China has been widely criticized for using exceptionally harsh treatment of almost any form of political dissent in Tibet to maintain control over the region. But two recent events in Tibet, involving the trials of two leading Tibetans who had not attacked or criticized the state at all, do not follow this logic.

NEW YORK – China has been widely criticized for its harsh treatment of almost any form of political dissent in Tibet. In 2008, for example, a Tibetan named Wangdu, an AIDS educator in Lhasa, received a life sentence for sending news about Tibetan protests to Tibetans abroad. The logic was clear: preserve what China’s leaders call “stability” and “harmony” in order to maintain state power.

But two recent events in Tibet, involving the trials of two leading Tibetans who had not attacked or criticized the state at all, do not follow this logic.

In the first trial, on June 24, Karma Samdrup, 42, one of the wealthiest Tibetan businessmen in China, received a 15-year sentence from a court in Xinjiang for stealing antiques. Human rights groups suggested the charge was invented, because the police had dropped the case for lack of evidence when it was first investigated 12 years ago, and neither witnesses nor new evidence were produced in court. Despite a detailed critique of the prosecution’s case by two Chinese defense lawyers, the sentence, which had been known privately among officials for several days, was confirmed.

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