China: ongoing imprisonment of nine Tibetan HRDs on account of their environmental protection work (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of China on 28 July 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: ongoing imprisonment of nine human rights defenders and civil society activists from the Tibetan Autonomous Region, who have reportedly been sentenced to up to 11 years in prison on account of their environmental protection work.

Mr. Anya Sengdra (also known as A-Nya Sengdra 阿亚桑扎) is an environmental activist, anti-corruption human rights defender and community leader in Gande County, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Prior to his detention, he was a campaigner against illegal mining and the hunting of endangered animals while in 2014 he established a voluntary group to expose corruption and challenge abuse of power.

Mr. Kelsang Choklang (格桑却朗), prior to his arrest, was a monk from Yuthang Village, Shaqu Township, Biru County, Naqu Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region. He was reportedly a participant in anti-mining protests in Biru County in 2013.

Mr. Dorjee Daktal, also known as Dorje Dragtsel (多杰 [多吉] 扎泽) is from Biru County, Naqu Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. He is reported to have participated in protests against an illegal mining project which had started at the site of a local sacred mountain, called Naglha Dzamba.

Mr. Dhongye (顿格 [东格], Mr. Rinchen Namdol (仁钦 [仁青] 南卓 [昂卓], Mr. Tsultrim Gonpo (次成 [次真] 贡布 [贡保, 干布], Mr. Jangchup Ngodup (降秋 [向秋, 桑秋] 欧珠, Mr. Sogru Abhu (索如·阿布) and Mr. Namsey (朗色 [昂色, 南色] were all residents of Shaqu Township in Biru County, Naqu Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region who had been opposed to a mining project at the site of the Sebtra Zagyen sacred mountain in Biru County. Mr. Dhongye was a businessman, Messrs Rinchen Namdol and Tsultrim Gonpo are monks while Mr. Sogru Abhu was a doctor.

ALLEGATIONS

Anya Sengdra

Anya Sengdra was arrested on 4 September 2018 by Chinese security officers in Qinghai Province. He was allegedly beaten and denied access to a lawyer for the first 48 hours of his detention. While he could contact his family and lawyer after 48 hours of detention, his lawyer was not allowed to meet with him until 22 October 2018. On 6 December 2019 Mr. Anya Sengdra was sentenced by the Gade County court to seven years imprisonment. He was found guilty of “gathering peoples to disturb public order” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” under articles 290 and 293 of the Chinese Criminal Law. During his trial, it was alleged that conversations he facilitated on WeChat on issues including corruption and environmental protection harmed ‘social order’. The Golog Intermediate People’s Court rejected his appeal on 17 June 2020. It is unclear where Anya Sengdra is currently being detained, the state of his health or whether he has had continued access to family visits.

Dorjee Daktal and Kelsang Choklang

Dorjee Daktal and Kelsang Choklang were arrested in 2013 in connection with a May 2013 environmental protest objecting to mining operations at the site of a local sacred mountain, Naglha Dzamba in Biru County.

Dorjee Daktal was arrested on 3 October 2013 and subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison on three charges. The first, for allegedly leading the May 2013 protest, resulted in a seven-year sentence while the second, for allegedly ‘wantonly’ lending money to others, resulted in a three-year sentence. The third charge related to ‘disturbing the work of official permanent cadres stations in Biru county’, for which he received a one year sentence.

Kelsang Choklang was also arrested in 2013 while visiting Lhasa for his alleged role in anti-mining protests in Biru county. He was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of ‘illegally gathering a crowd’.

It is unclear where the two human rights defenders are being detained, the state of their health, or if they have been permitted access to family visits.

Dhongye, Rinchen Namdol, Tsultrim Gonpo, Jangchup Ngodup, Sogru Abhu and Namsey

Dhongye, Rinchen Namdol, Tsultrim Gonpo, Jangchup Ngodup, Sogru Abhu and Namsey were all reportedly arrested in 2018 as part of a group of 30 Tibetans from Shaqu Town, Biru County, Naqu Prefecture who were detained for either protesting against mining activities near the site of sacred mountain Sebtra Zagyen or for sharing information about the protests. The seven men were all reportedly found guilty of ‘engaging in separatist activity” although the length of their sentence is not known, nor the charges on which they were sentenced, or whether they had access to legal counsel, and in the case of all but Dhongye, the state of their health and in what prisons they are being held. It has been alleged that Dhongye is in extremely poor health as a result of alleged mistreatment in Biru County Prison.

CONCERNS

In the communication, we express our serious concern regarding the imprisonment of Anya Sengdra, Dorjee Daktal, Kelsang Choklang, Dhongye, Rinchen Namdol, Tsultrim Gonpo, Jangchup Ngodup, Sogru Abhu and Namesy, and the reported lack of transparency around their arrests, sentencing and conditions in prison.

There are serious concerns about the lack of information about the physical integrity of the human rights defenders included in this communication as well as their access to adequate medical care and treatment while deprived of their liberty. This is particularly true for those whose whereabouts reportedly remain unknown or unconfirmed. We wish to recall that, by depriving persons of their liberty, States assume responsibility to care for their life and bodily integrity. Due to this heightened duty of care, States must take any necessary measures to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty. Inadequate conditions of detention can be a factor contributing to deaths and serious injury in detention, and when conditions are seriously inadequate, they can constitute an immediate or long-term danger to life. We reiterate our concern at the alleged denial of due process of the human rights defenders included in this communication, including in connection to their access to legal counsel and the alleged breach of their right not to be arbitrarily detained or deprived of liberty.

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