A Tibetan businessman recently handed a life term in prison may have been sentenced for making donations to religious figures in exile, according to sources in the region.
Dorje Tashi, 37 and proprietor of Lhasa’s famous Yak Hotel, was reportedly convicted June 26 in a secret trial on unspecified charges. A Communist Party member since 2003, he was formerly named one of Tibet’s “Ten Excellent Youth” by Tibet’s Chinese rulers.
Allegations that he had sent funds outside Tibet into India may have resulted in his arrest, though, said a friend in Tibet, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“In my view, he did not fund any political activities,” said the friend.
“He is a true Buddhist, and he might have sent money as offerings … to different monasteries in India.”
Letter of thanks
Separately, another source confirmed that Chinese authorities had searched Dorje Tashi’s house and found a letter from the office of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, thanking Dorje Tashi for a donation of 20 million yuan (U.S. $2.94 million).
He had kept the letter in a flower pot or a vase, where he hid it, the source said, also asking not to be named.
“If he had kept the letter, this would suggest that it was a religious transaction,” said Robbie Barnett, a Tibetan scholar at Columbia University.
“If you send a religious donation to the Dalai Lama, then you would of course, as a religious devotee, want to keep that letter, which would be from him.”
“But of course, it hasn’t been looked at in that way in China,” he added.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 in the wake of a failed national uprising against Chinese rule, is regularly vilified by Chinese leaders as a “splittist” seeking Tibetan independence, though he says he seeks only “meaningful autonomy” for Tibetans inside China.
An 'outstanding Tibetan'
A 2008 profile by state-run China Ethnic Press lists Dorje Tashi as chairman of the Tibet Shenhu Group, which operates an array of businesses focused mostly on real estate and tourism. His company had assets worth 280 million yuan (U.S. $41.3 million), according to the article.
Dorje Tashi met Chinese president Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao at a meeting of the National Youth Federation in 2005, and is listed as a delegate to the Chinese People's Consultative Conference.
One Tibetan source suggested that Dorje Tashi’s success inside Tibet may have figured in his arrest and prosecution, adding that “Chinese cannot tolerate outstanding Tibetans.”
“Initially, he started a small restaurant with about 10,000 or 20,000 yuan (U.S. $1,470 or $2,940). Gradually, he got a job in the Lhasa City Tourism Department, and then he expanded his business activities, which brought him great success and achievements in his business ventures,” the source said.
“He hired only Tibetans in his hotels and other business establishments. He helped many Tibetan children.”
“He is someone who can help and work for Tibetan nationals,” he said.
Original reporting by Dolkar for RFA's Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.