China: Stop the witchhunt in the campaign to crush ‘black and evil’ crimes; Release all Tibetans unjustly held in detention

Dugkar arrested by police [Photo: Hongyuan county government]
Chinese authorities have sentenced 21 Tibetans to prison in connection with the nationwide campaign to eliminate criminal activities related to ‘black and evil forces’ in Shordha town in Nangchen (Ch:Nangqin) County, Kyegudo (Ch: Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province, in the Tibetan province of Kham. Two of the sentenced are former heads of their respective villages.

In May this year, the Nangchen County People’s Court sentenced the 21 Tibetans in two groups. The first group of 11 Tibetans from Do Thrang village in Shordha town were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years and monetary fines from 10000 to 50000 yuan.

Local government authorities did not provide the full names of the convicted Tibetans, instead using the first syllable of their names followed by the generic alias, ‘ché’. Among the 11 sentenced is Wang Ché, a former head of the villagers committee of Do Thrang. The group was charged of “setting up illegal organisation with evil intentions, destroying the village social management order through manipulation of village affairs and sealing secret deals of sand mining and land excavation.” The charges also included “creating hurdles for the government policy, not accepting environmental conservation compensation, and stopping others from receiving it, and negatively influencing the regular working of the village and party committees”.

Another group of 10 Tibetans including Zom Ché, a former nomadic camp leader in Do Thrang were sentenced to varying prison terms from 3.5 to 6 years in prison and fined from 200000 to 350000 yuan.

Zom Ché and his alleged accomplices were charged of illegal land sales and dealings. Local authorities stated that a group of village residents along with Zom Ché had founded an illegal organisation in the name of environmental protection.

Police raid on one of the casino venues [Photo: Hongyuan county government]
Local authorities further claimed, “As a longtime representative of the organisation that promoted environmental protection, Zom Ché did not promote environmental management and protection and defuse local disputes. Instead he took part in illegal land dealings, forced others into illegal business transaction, blocked local residents from claiming environmental conservation subsidies”. This amounted to “negative social influence that seriously harmed the regular order established by the government committee and the party committee.” The authorities further emphasised that from 2013 to 2018, the group sealed five illegal deals worth 49.56 mu of land out of which they earned a sum of 3310000 yuan. Zom Ché’s alleged accomplices Nor Ché and Kyi Ché were accused of blocking development work at the Nangchen County Nationalities Middle School no. 3 by stopping construction supplies from reaching the school.

Local authorities claimed that these two cases “symbolise the criminal activities associated with evil forces usurping grassroots political control.” Zomché and Wangché, the leaders of two groups, were accused of “mobilising the support of a group of villagers to establish a ‘environmental protection committee’, which they later used to create a ’10-member committee’ and a ‘nine-member team’ to intefere with government activities and seize grassroots power to create hurdles in the implementation of government policy.”

Since last year China has deepened the widespread and systematic campaign to weed out ‘organised crimes and other black and evil forces’, which has raised fears over potential human rights violations faced by human rights defenders and dissenters. The local regulations governing the campaign’s implementation in Tibet contain explicit references to Tibetan cultural expression and political dissent as criminal acts. For instance, in April this year, as the campaign gained momentum with the ongoing central government inspections across the country, nine Tibetans were sentenced from three to seven years in prison in Rebkong (Ch: Tongren) County, Malho (Ch: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. The imprisonment of Tibetans were an attempt by local authorities to suppress a long-running land rights campaign led by villagers to reclaim community land expropriated by local government for a failed business enterprise and to neutralise the influence and authority of traditional village leadership system.

On 23 May this year, the Lhasa Municipal Public Security Bureau announced at a press conference that “since the beginning of this year, [the Lhasa PSB] has cracked down on illegal organizations 4 times, 14 dangerous security cases, investigated and handled 9 administrative cases, registered 21 criminal detentions, 15 administrative detentions, and 174 education and training. Among them, this year the public security organs of Lhasa City carried out 45,700 times of centralized clean-up and investigation, and, investigated 85 instability-prone areas, and 28 gambling dens. Investigate and deal with 742 illegal persons, 6.557 million yuan in gambling, delete and block 1370 illegal websites; cracked six criminal cases involving drug, arrested 10 criminal suspects, and seized narcotics such as heroin.” The Lhasa Municipal Committee of Political Science and Law, Lhasa Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection, Lhasa Municipal People’s Procuratorate, Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court and other relevant departments responsible for the collective implementation of the campaign attended the conference.

The special police task force arrives to arrest Dugkar [Photo: Hongyuan county government]
While the government may have a legitimate reason in crushing genuine criminal activities that negatively affect the collective social order in its truest sense, it also has the responsibility to protect and fulfill human rights of people in detention, during the entire process of case investigation, adjudication, and imprisonment. While there seem to be a genuine relief among local Tibetans with the recent crackdown on gambling and other criminal activities in Khyungchu (Ch: Hongyuan) County in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) TAP, Sichuan Province.

A nephew of Dugkar, 47, one of the main suspects arrested during a crackdown on gambling activities in Khyungchu County, believe that his uncle was unfairly imprisoned. The nephew, who asked to remain anonymous as he lives in India, informed that local Tibetans with knowledge of the case speculate that Dugkar will most likely be given death sentence or 10 years term. Dugkar and eight others  were detained in early May on suspected charges of ‘jeopardizing social order through gambling and casino activities’.

Until his arrest last month, Dugkar was a successful businessman of cattle meat and hides that he ran with his siblings in Ponkar village. He is feared and respected in his village for his courageous resistance to the Chinese government’s attempts to expropriate his land and home.

In 2015, the Chinese government had announced an eco-tourism project to develop a holy lake located in Tsolung valley in Serdeu. The development of the lake as a tourist site led to widespread land seizures by local authorities. The highway project to Tsolung valley required the relocation four nomadic households one of which was Dugkar’s. Some households relocated but Dugkar refused. Despite warnings from local authorities, Dugkar threatened to kill himself before leaving his land. Unable to rein in Dugkar, the authorities gave up and built the highway around his house. This victory in the highway project however made him a soft target in the eyes of the local authorities. Parts of the highway to Tsolung Lake traverse through the nomadic villages in Serdeu Town, located 2-km away from the lake.

The official Chinese media last month reported on Dugkar’s arrest along with eight others in a sweeping crackdown on organised crime that the County Public Security launched in April in the lead-up to the May Day celebrations. The monthlong campaign resulted in the arrests of Dugkar and others who were accused of founding a criminal gang involved in gambling activities. More than 300 people were found to be gambling, eight remains in detention, two received administrative detention of 15 days police custody, and more than 300 were ‘educated’.

Local Chinese authorities reported that “the rising trend of stealing and snatching in Serdeu Town had made crimes like murder a common affair.” The monthlong investigations conducted by the County Public Security Bureau identified gambling business as the root cause of these crimes. The investigation further revealed that Dugkar and five others had opened 13 illegal casino venues. Casting aspersions on Dugkar’s past behaviour as a student at a religious institution, the task force found that Dugkar was accused in a theft incident as a student at Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Serthar (Ch: Seda) County in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) TAP. He later left the institute after being accused of stealing a property of the temple and returned to his hometown in Ponkar. Local authorities further claimed in their statements that Dugkar has “always ignored the rules and regulations of the temple, the village regulations, the national laws and regulations, and have not cooperated with the local party committee and government for a long time by forcibly occupying the land and constructing fences wherever he wants.”

The gambling menace is a serious issue for many local residents in Serdeu. Local Tibetans are deeply concerned that gambling has bankrupt families, split couples, and destroyed the community. But gambling also has its roots in the nomad relocation policy that has impoverished Tibetan nomads and herded them together in resettlement camps in the outskirts of new urban towns without skills needed to survive and a future deprived of sustainable livelihood sources. There have been frequent cases of violent fights and stealing and robbery incidents due to these problems in resettlement camps for former nomads. Sometimes the fights lead to loss of one or two lives every year. These incidents have caused numerous conflicts in the community, an exiled Tibetan journalist whose former classmate was among those detained along with Dugkar. The journalist has requested anonymity to protect the security of her family in Tibet.

Local Tibetan sources informed TCHRD that not many villagers liked Dugkar as he has a rough and straightforward demeanour in his dealings with others. His unpopularity could be one of the reasons, among others such as his negative rapport with local authorities, might have contributed to his imprisonment. But many believe that Dugkar should not have been imprisoned at all even if it had been a case of illegal financial dealings as he also provided loans to local villagers. But there are no necessary details provided by the authorities on this case, which makes it difficult to determine the legality of the charges imposed on Dugkar and many others.

Dugkar’s family members have not commented on his business dealings but maintained that he always used his own hard-earned money in all his business ventures. His nephew, who lives in India, states that in the past, Dugkar had run afoul with his seniors at the monastery, a small Nyingmapa monastery called Choekyap Gar, a branch of Larung Gar academy. “Dugkar stood up to defend his best friend, the monastery’s caretaker, who was accused of stealing a statue from the monastery. This brought him into direct confrontation with the monastery’s acting abbot who had made the accusation. Before leaving the monastery, Dugkar apologised for his behaviour, cut off one of his fingers, wrapped it in a khata, and offered it to the acting abbot.” Dugkar’s family members maintained that he was falsely implicated in the case and that the charges of him involved in​ stealing other people’s money are baseless. They have called for his immediate release.

One of those arrested along with Dugkar was Tendar, about 32, the former classmate of the India-based journalist working in India who was born and educated in Khungchu County but left for exile afterwards. The journalist said Tendar’s family members had not been allowed to visit him in detention. The family is planning to appeal to higher authorities. He is currently being held in Wenchuan PSB detention centre in Ngaba County. This information dates back to the pretrial period and there is no information on whether the family was allowed to visit him after the sentencing. Normally, Chinese authorities tend to maintain secrecy during the pretrial detention period and family members only get to meet their detained loved ones after the sentencing.

The partial names of Dugkar and nine others arrested were published in a list in official media:

  1. De Ché, male, 47, Serdeu resident, suspected of opening a casino
  2. Tse Ché, male, 33, Serdeu resident, suspected of opening a casino
  3. Pe Ché, male, 38, Serdeu resident, suspected of opening a casino
  4. Tse Ché, male, 36, Serdeu resident, suspected of opening a casino
  5. Drub Ché, male, 25, Serdeu resident, suspected involvement in gambling and illegal detention
  6. Ney Ché, male, 31, Serdeu resident, suspected of gambling and theft
  7. Gon Ché, male, 32, Serdeu resident, suspected of setting up a casino crime, concealing the crime of concealing the proceeds of crime
  8. Nyi Ché, male, 31, Serdeu resident, suspected of participation in gambling
  9. Tsul Ché, male, 36, Serdeu resident, suspected of participation in gambling

Local authorities released pictures of the special armed police task force raiding the casino venues, and arresting the suspects. One of the pictures shows Dugkar in his monk’s robe and blurred face handcuffed by police. The task force conducted the arrests at multiple locations and claimed that the “successful detection of this case benefited from the scientific decision-making and correct guidance of the main leaders of the State Political and Legal Committee and the State Public Security Bureau, and provided new ideas and directions for the investigation of similar cases involving evil and gambling gangs in Tibetan areas.”

The crackdown on organised crime and other black and evil forces ​was announced in early May during which Dugkar was apprehended for establishing illegal gambling dens and providing loans. Rather than the township police, it was the special armed police that came in five vehicles to conduct the arrest. About 30 other local Tibetans are said to be detained along with Dugkar at the county detention center.

Dugkar’s family members have not been allowed to meet him. Family members rebuff the charges of ‘destroying social stability’, ‘pilfering public wealth’, and ‘grabbing government land’ and contend that the monk was persecuted for his defiance against state authorities and his overall reputation as a tough nut to crack. Some local Tibetans believe that the man is made a scapegoat because he has a history of successful resistance against the state’s relocation policy, vague involvement in a theft case dating back to his early years in a monastery, and runs a successful business of meat and hides although he often extended loans to other needy villagers.

There is growing concern that the Chinese authorities are using the campaign to launch  a political witchhunt to crush peaceful dissent in Tibet. The lack of fair trial rights and extreme secrecy of the Chinese criminal justice system that make it harder for suspects and detainees to protect and exercise their human rights. Equally concerning are the broad discretionary powers enabling law enforcement officers to engage in extralegal practices of arbitrary detention, torture, and forced confession without any independent oversight.

TCHRD is deeply concerned about the safety of human rights defenders and others wrongfully imprisoned due to their activism. Chinese authorities must immediately  conduct a human rights assessment of the anti-crime campaign and release those unjustly imprisoned without conditions.

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