Tibetan Environmentalist, Monk Freed After Serving Prison Terms

Two Tibetan activists an environmentalist who organized villagers to plant trees and report poaching, and a Tibetan monk who joined mass protests against Chinese rule have been released from jail after serving sentences deemed as punishment for their activism, according to sources

Rinchen Samdup, who ran an environmental group in the mountainous Gonjo (in Chinese, Gongjue) county in the Tibetan Autonomous Region's Chamdo (Changduo) prefecture, was freed from a jail in the regional capital Lhasa on Friday after serving five years on charges of "inciting to split the nation," the sources said citing local contacts.  

Samdup was detained in August 2009 after he accused local officials in Gonjo county of hunting endangered animals, angering powerful local groups with vested interests, sources in the area said at the time of his conviction.

The group run by Samdup and his two brothers, who had also been jailed, mobilized local villagers to reforest the area and report poaching, and operated a small magazine on environmental and other issues affecting the community.

The youngest brother, Chime Namgyal, was detained alongside Samdrup and jailed on the same separatism charges and was released earlier after serving two years in jail.

The other brother, Karma Samdrup, a wealthy antique collector, is still in jail, serving a 15-year sentence imposed by a court in the neighboring Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in June 2010 for excavating and "robbing" ancient tombs. Some his supporters believe he was punished for defending his two brothers.
Warm welcome

Gyaltsen, the other activist who was freed, was warmly welcomed on Friday by fellow monks at the Ba Shetri Monastery in the Qinghai region's Gepasumdo (in Chinese, Tongde) county), sources said.

He was freed on July 28 after serving a two-year sentence at a prison in Ziling (Xining) prefecture for participating in a protest by thousands of Tibetans against China's "repressive" policy, they said.

“It is a joy to see him released but at the moment we are not sure of his health condition and other issues he faces,” a Tibetan in the area said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Gyaltsen was among 60 Tibetans who were arrested at that time but many of them had been released after a brief detention.

There are still about 20 monks from the Ba Shetri Monastery who are still serving jail sentences.

The protest led to various restrictions on the monastery and the Chinese authorities periodically sent work team to conduct "patriotic reeducation campaigns" in the institution, the Tibetan said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Chinese rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

Some 131 Tibetans to date have set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests to oppose Beijing’s rule and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Reported by Tsering Yangdon, Lhuboom and Chimi Lhundup for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.