An international coalition of Tibet groups has received information indicating that an additional ten Tibetan men were arrested in connection with popular Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Lobsang Dhondup, who were sentenced to death following an April 2002 bomb blast in Chengdu, Sichuan.
Of the 12 Tibetans arrested, seven are still being held by Chinese authorities and three have now been summarily tried and sentenced, according to an unnamed source that has been in contact with the International Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet and Free Tibet Campaign.
“This information raises serious concerns – about these ten additional arrests, about the apparently widening scope of this case and about the possibility that China may have withheld this information in recent human rights talks,” said Mary Beth Markey, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet’s Washington office.
All of the Tibetan prisoners, including those now released, had been tortured in custody according to the source. Two Tibetan boys have also reportedly disappeared.
“Allegations of torture, an apparent lack of due judicial process and the revelation that a third Tibetan has also been sentenced in connection with this case are all deeply troubling,” said Anne Callaghan of London’s Free Tibet Campaign.
In addition to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Lobsang Dondup, a Tibetan man named Jortse (a.k.a. Jotse or Tserang Dondrup) has been tried and sentenced to five years in prison by Chinese authorities.
Jortse, who is 65 to 70 years old, was arrested approximately one month after Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. He is a village leader who had reportedly collected 20,000 petition signatures on behalf of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. According to the source, he has lost most movement and flexibility in his legs since his arrest.
The other Tibetans still detained by Chinese authorities are: Tsultrim Dargye (36), Tamdrin Tsering (33), Ashar (or Aka) Dhargye (40) and Tashi Phuntsok (39).
The U.S. delegation to the recent U.S.-China human rights dialogue took up the cases of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Lobsang Dondup at the mid-December dialogue.
“If this information proves to be true then it raises serious concerns about China’s sincerity towards the human rights dialogue process,” said Markey.
“Beijing can’t just duck responsibility or claim ignorance on such an important case – especially as the scope of the case continues to expand,” said John Hocevar, Executive Director of New York-based Students for a Free Tibet.
“At least a dozen arrests, interrogations, allegations of torture and detention without trial, and denial of proper representation for a death sentence appeal point to a level of lawlessness and repression that is unacceptable for a modern government,” Hocevar continued.
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Lobsang Dondup were taken into custody following an April 2002 bomb blast in Chengdu. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was held incommunicado for eight months until the day of the trial. After his sentencing, he reportedly began a hunger strike to protest his treatment in detention, which sources say has included torture, and because Chinese authorities have denied him a fair trial.
Two prominent Chinese lawyers, Zhang Sizhi and Li Huigeng, were denied permission to represent Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in his appeal process, which was to begin January 10. U.S. and UK government officials, who requested a representative be present at the appeal hearing, believe a lengthy review process is likely.
The secretive nature of China’s judicial system means that detailed information about the charges and evidence surrounding these cases is unavailable. However, because Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had significant influence in the region beyond his religious authority, and was known for his allegiance to the Dalai Lama, it is likely that the move against him and those connected to him was politically motivated.
Two other prominent religious figures in Kandze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture were the targets of official actions last year: Sonam Phuntsok, who was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly bombing a medical clinic; and Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who was taken into custody from the religious encampment at Larung Gar, where he taught and where thousands of monks and nuns were summarily expelled and their dwellings demolished.
“These incidents suggest that even the most remote Tibetan areas could be facing the restrictive level of scrutiny and control that characterizes Chinese policy in the Tibetan Autonomous Region,” said Callaghan.
“Governments that are engaged in bilateral dialogue with China have both a special responsibility and a mechanism to press these cases vigorously,” Callaghan continued.
“We will be monitoring these cases carefully,” said SFT’s John Hocevar.
The International Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet and Free Tibet Campaign join Amnesty International in calling on Chinese authorities to conduct an immediate review of the case and, if necessary, to conduct a fair and open re-trial ensuring that the defendants are given full facilities to prepare and present their defense in line with international fair trial standards.
The defendants should have their choice of attorneys and should be allowed to communicate with family members while in custody. Otherwise, the defendants should be released unconditionally.