A Chinese court has handed jail terms of up to 13 years to three Tibetans for opposing mining operations deemed harmful to the environment, as authorities further tighten controls over public protests and assertions of national and cultural identity in a restive Tibetan county, sources said.
Choekyab and Tselha, whose ages are unknown, and singer Trinley Tsekar, 22, were ordered jailed on Dec. 19 by the People’s Court of Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county in the Nagchu (Naqu) prefecture of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), a Tibetan living in Europe told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Monday.
“They were sentenced for their roles in the protest against Chinese mining activities on Naglha Dzambha, a mountain regarded as sacred by Driru-area Tibetans,” Driru Samdrub said, citing sources in the region.
Choekyab and Serkhar, who come from Driru’s Serkhang Village, were sentenced to terms of 13 years and 9 years respectively, while Tselha—a former policeman and a resident of Driru’s Village No. 5—received a term of three years, Samdrub said.
The three had been charged with actions aimed at “splitting” Tibetan areas from China and with launching a campaign to protect the environment, Samdrub added.
In May 2013, Chinese mine operators announced plans to construct roads and excavate minerals in the area of Naglha Dzambha mountain, sources said.
“[But] Tibetans in all parts of Driru united in opposition and succeeded in halting the plan,” Samdrub said, adding, “Since then, those Tibetans who played key roles in the protest have been detained and sentenced.”
Separately, an India-based advocacy group confirmed the sentences, noting that Tsekar had been taken into custody on Nov. 20 while on his way to pick up a driver’s license, while Choekyab and Tselha were also detained sometime during the third week of November.
“They were taken to a prison in Nagchu [county] where they were secretly held for some time,” the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a Dec. 23 statement.
“Around the second week of December 2013, they were taken back to a prison in Driru County,” TCHRD said, adding, “a little later on 19 December 2013, the County People’s Court sentenced them to prison on charges related to ‘separatist activities.’
Tsekar, a popular singer, had also come to the attention of the Chinese authorities because of his many songs written on Tibetan themes, with his CD titled “Links of Unity” especially popular among Tibetans, one source told RFA.
“His melodious voice and excellent academic background had gained him many fans,” the source said.
Forced displays of loyalty
Following the anti-mining protest earlier this year, Driru county became the center of a campaign by Tibetans resisting forced displays of loyalty to the Chinese state.
The campaign began in early October when villagers refused to fly the Chinese flag from their homes, throwing them instead into a river and prompting a deadly security crackdown.
Shootings in Driru’s Sengthang and Trinring villages on Oct. 8 left at least four dead and about 50 injured, sources said.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.
A total of 125 Tibetans in China have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.
Reported by Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.