HONG KONG—A court in China’s troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang sentenced a prominent Tibetan businessman-turned-activist to the maximum term of 15 years in jail and a heavy fine on Thursday on theft-related charges that were initially dropped in 1998, according to his wife and lawyer.
Karma Samdrup, 42, denied the charges and has 10 days to appeal, his lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said in an interview.
"The verdict was unfair,” his wife, Dolkar Tso, said. “I asked for some time to meet and talk to my husband but I was not allowed.”
“I just want to let him know all his relatives are proud of him and he shouldn’t worry about us. But I wasn’t given the chance.”
Pu, the lawyer, said that in addition to 15 years in jail, Karma Samdrup was sentenced by a court in Yanqi county, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), to five years’ deprivation of his political rights and a fine of 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,500).
“We didn’t have any time to collect evidence to refute the charges, we didn’t even have time to review the court documents...We were harassed during our meeting with Karma,” he said.
“In the whole process we felt humiliated, but we were there to defend [his] dignity.”
Pu said Karma Samdrup received the maximum sentence.
“He denied the charges in court and expressed his intention to appeal,” Pu added.
Signs of torture
Karma Samdrup, an environmentalist and art collector, went on trial Tuesday.
Dolkar Tso said her husband appeared to have been drugged and beaten and had lost some 40 pounds (20 kilos) in detention.
Pu said Karma Samdrup was tortured in 1998 and again this year.
“The Bazhou Prefecture PSB [Public Security Bureau] tortured him and tried to get a forced confession from him. He lost 20 kilos in prison from over 90 kilos (198 pounds) and he owes 660,000 yuan (U.S. $97,000) to the prison and other inmates for food and water,” he said in an interview.
“In China, on top of laws we have leaders. So you never know what will happen,” Pu said earlier this week.
“There are clear signs of torture and forced confession through torture,” as well as an obviously forged confession, he added.
Detained in 1998
Karma Samdrup was taken by authorities from his home in the southwestern province of Sichuan back to Xinjiang in January, on charges resurrected from a 1998 case against him that was dropped by order of Xinjiang's Supreme Court.
Court documents obtained by RFA's Tibetan service say he was tried at the XUAR Yanqi Hui Autonomous County People’s Court for "robbery of an ancient grave." They also say he was detained by the Ruo Qiang County Public Security Bureau and is being held at the Yanqi County Detention Center.
Pu said the accusation against Karma Samdrup related to an incident in 1998, when he acquired, as an art collector, cultural artifacts that later turned out to have been stolen by grave-robbers.
Several men were convicted in connection with the robbery by the Yanqi County High People's Court, but the charges against Karma Samdrup were dropped.
Karma Samdrup comes from a family of prominent Tibetans, many of whom have already fallen foul of the Chinese authorities.
His elder brother, Rinchen Samdrup, was detained in August 2009 on charges of subversion and "splitting the motherland."
At the time of his detention, Karma Samdrup was in the process of setting up a museum of Tibetan culture, and was judged by other Tibetans to own the largest private collection in the world of Tibetan art and artifacts.
Several artists and intellectuals have been detained or have disappeared in recent months in what activists say amounts to the broadest suppression of Tibetan culture and expression in years.
Tensions have frequently risen in Tibetan areas of China since deadly rioting broke out following days of peaceful protests by Tibetans in their capital, Lhasa, in March 2008.
Security is also very tight in the XUAR ahead of the anniversary of deadly ethnic violence in the regional capital, Urumqi, which was sparked on July 5, 2009 by a demonstration by the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group whose homeland is in Xinjiang.
At least 200 people died in the violence, which Beijing has blamed on incitement by U.S.-based Uyghur exiled dissident Rebiya Kadeer.
Original reporting by Dolkar in Tibetan by RFA's Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated from the Tibetan by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.