New official confirmation has been obtained of a life sentence imposed on a senior monk whose case has been scarcely publicised, Choeying Khedrub, who was imprisoned in 2001 for ‘splittism’. Choeying Khedrub, who is in his early thirties, was sentenced on January 29, 2001 to life imprisonment by the Tibet Autonomous Region Higher People’s Court for the ‘crime of inciting splittism’1, according to official information passed onto the Dui Hua Foundation2. He was one of a group of three other monks and two laypeople accused of the printing and distribution of pro-independence leaflets.

A court document from Tibet, made publicly available for the first time, gives details of the sentences of two of the most high-profile political prisoners in Tibet today. Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche and his partner Nyima Choedron were both arrested in 1999. Bangri Rinpoche, the founder of the Gyatso school and children’s home in Lhasa, is serving one of the longest sentences among all Tibetan political prisoners for ‘splittist’ offences that are detailed in the Criminal Court Judgment. A translation of the complete document, which was obtained by ICT, is given below. The document provides a powerful insight into the hostile position taken by the authorities on issues relating to the Dalai Lama’s perceived influence in Tibet as well as the unrelenting focus by Beijing, carried through to a regional level, on eliminating ‘splittism’.

Choeying Khedrub: ‘supporting splittist activities of the Dalai clique’

Choeying Khedrub, a monk from Yongna township in Sog (Chinese: Suo) county in Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region, was one of at least six men detained in 2000, who are all serving prison sentences. Official information passed onto Dui Hua stated that Choeying Khedrub had been sent to TAR Prison (Drapchi) on April 4, 2001. He is now likely to have been transferred to Chushur (Qushui) Prison. According to reliable reports, the other men implicated by the authorities were sentenced as follows: Tsering Lhagon, 15 years; Yeshe Tenzin, 10 years; Trakru Yeshe, five years and Tenzin Choewang, three years.

According to information that the Chinese government provided to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) in 2004, Choeying Khedrub was found guilty of endangering state security and “supporting splittist activities of the Dalai clique.” The UNWGAD reports that the Chinese response “mentions no evidence in support of the charges, or if they used violence in their activities,” and finds that the government “appears” to have “misused the charge of endangering state security”3.

Choeying Khedrub is now one of only two Tibetans known to be serving life sentences for entirely political offences. The other is Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a senior Tibetan monk well-known for his efforts to protect Tibetan culture and religion, whose case has led to an international campaign for his release. Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche was initially sentenced to death for allegedly “causing explosions and inciting the separation of the state”, which was commuted to life on January 26 2005. Tenzin Delek’s alleged co-conspirator, Lobsang Dondrup, was executed in January 2003, immediately following a high court review of the case.

Lobsang Tenzin, a former Tibet University student, also had a death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, which was then reduced to a fixed term, and is now being held at Chushur (Qushui) Prison. Lobsang Tenzin joined a political protest in Lhasa on March 5, 1988 and was one of five Tibetans charged in the death of a police officer who fell from a window during the incident. In January 1989, he was sentenced to death which was later commuted to life imprisonment. On 27 April 1993 his life sentence was commuted to a 20-yer term of fixed imprisonment, which means the last day of his sentence is 26 April 2013. Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche’s life sentence, detailed below, has been reduced to a fixed term.

Bangri Rinpoche: charges of ‘attempting to split the country’

An official internal court document, dated September 26 2000, provides full information for the first time about the sentencing of Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche and his partner Nyima Choedron. The authorities have taken strong measures to prevent information about Bangri Rinpoche’s case reaching the outside world, including intimidation of children who were taken away from Gyatso school following the arrests. Chinese officials have given differing accounts of the reasons for their imprisonment to Western governments over the past five years.

Bangri Rinpoche and Nyima Choedron have had their sentences reduced since they were sentenced. Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche’s life sentence for ‘splittism’ was commuted to 19 years on July 31, 2003, and he was granted a year’s reduction, with his sentence now due to expire on July 30, 2021. Nyima Choedron, a highly-educated former nun in her late thirties, has had her ten year sentence reduced twice and is now due for release on February 26, 2007.

Forty-year old Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche, who was sentenced on charges of “attempting to split the country” in 2000, has now been transferred from Drapchi prison to the new prison of Chushur (Chinese: Qushui) county in the Nyethang (Chinese: Nidang) area of Lhasa, where the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, met him during his visit to the PRC from November 20 to December 2 2005 (ICT report, New prison in Lhasa: increased surveillance for political prisoners, ‘oppressive’ cell-blocks). Mr Nowak also visited Bangri Rinpoche’s wife, Nyima Choedron, in Drapchi prison (Tibet Autonomous Region prison).

The sentencing document describes in detail how the Chinese authorities linked Bangri Rinpoche and Nyima Choedron to an attempt by Tashi Tsering, a Tibetan construction worker at the school, to raise the Tibetan flag in the main square in Lhasa and to blow himself up with explosives4. Gyatso, the school and children’s home founded and managed by Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche and Nyima, was closed and other staff arrested and imprisoned after the same incident.

The authorities charged Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche with conspiring in a ‘plot’ with Tashi Tsering to carry out the protest. He was said to have ‘enthusiastically supported Zha Xi [Tashi]’s plot’ and given him ‘80,000 yuan [$9,880] payment’ to carry it out. Tashi Tsering worked as a builder for the Gyatso school and ICT has received confirmation that he had been paid to repair the roof, and that funds had been set aside for the building of a second orphanage. The authorities also claimed that Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche encouraged Tashi Tsering to meet Tibetan officials from the Tibetan government-in-exile in India. Bangri Rinpoche denied the charges, as recorded in the sentencing document. The trial was closed to the public.

The authorities also accused Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche of links with ‘splittist’ foreign organizations. Bangri Chogtrul Rinpoche had traveled to India and the US during the 1990s to raise funds for his school project, which was funded by at least two organizations, including two charities in the UK and two American groups of sponsors. (See ICT report, Fears for school founder in prison, September 12, 2005).

Three other Tibetans were tried and sentenced at the same hearing for the crime of ‘protecting criminals and covering up criminal acts’. Tashi Tsering’s partner, Lhadron (Chinese transliteration: La Zhen) from Lhasa was sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of “protecting criminals and covering up criminal acts” because she had apparently failed to report Tashi Tsering’s actions to the police before he carried out his protest. A relative of Tashi Tsering, Nyima, was sentenced to a year and six months in prison on suspicion of having had prior knowledge of Tashi Tsering’s plan to lower the Chinese flag in the Potala Square. Thirty-eight-year old Choedron (Chinese: Qu Zhen), a friend of Tashi Tsering, was sentenced to two years in prison after she apparently confessed during interrogation that she knew about Tashi Tsering’s plan to carry out the protest in the Potala Square.

It is well documented that torture is used to extract confessions in Chinese prisons, and that Tibetan political prisoners have frequently been subject to maltreatment in detention5. This undermines the credibility of the confessions detailed in the sentencing document. A former member of staff from Gyatso school, Dechen Choezom, a nun in her forties, has told ICT that she was beaten and tortured in custody before serving three years in prison.

The court document concludes that Bangri Rinpoche and Nyima Choedron “collaborated with hostile external forces over a long period of time, participated in activities to split the country and destroy national unity”.

You can find the Bangri Rinpoche sentencing document as a PDF document here »

1 A reference to alleged attempts to ‘split’ Tibet from China.

2 See ‘Occasional Publications of the Dui Hua Foundation Volume 21: Selection of Cases from the Criminal Law’, April 2006

3 UN Working Group on Abritrary Detention. UN Commission on Human Rights Doc: E/CN.4/2004/3/Add.1; OPINION NO. 13/2003 (CHINA)

4 Tashi Tsering was arrested in the Potala Square before he could carry out his attempt to raise the Tibetan flag. He later died in prison. According to a Chinese official report, his death was due to suicide.

5 See the series of ‘Hostile Elements’ publications published by Tibet Information Network, as well as numerous reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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