Expanding Crime and Punishment in Tibet

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.

On July 3, Karma’s elder brother, Rinchen Samdrup, 46, was tried on charges of “endangering state security.” His crime was failing to register a small environmental group run by him and his younger brother in their remote home village of Gonjo, in eastern Tibet. Having been found guilty -- the conviction rate in China is around 98%, and is even higher in Tibet, so the verdict was never in doubt – he was sentenced to five years in prison.