UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, has made a confidential letter addressed to China concerning the plight of nine Tibetan environmental defenders public. The move sheds light on international concerns over the situation of these activists.
The letter, previously kept private, was sent by Mary Lawlor to Chinese authorities to express her concerns regarding the well-being and rights of the nine Tibetan environmental defenders. Their activities in advocating for environmental protection have placed them in precarious situations.
In a joint statement dated 10 Aug 2023, U.N. experts urged China to immediately release nine Tibetans imprisoned for peaceful environmental rights work. The nine were jailed for protesting China's mining and hunting activities in Tibet.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts communicated their concerns to the Chinese government on July 28, 2023. This communication, which remained confidential for 60 days, has now been made public as the government failed to provide a response within the stipulated time frame.
Lack of transparency and information from Chinese authority regarding the nine imprisoned environmental rights defenders, the UN experts say “could be seen as a deliberate attempt to make the world forget about these human rights defenders as they spend year after year in isolation” adding that “their families have been kept in the dark about their fate.”
Tibet, the roof of the world, often dubbed as the ‘third pole’ highlights its significance globally. Since the occupation of Tibet – China’s rampant deforestation, hunting of wildlife, illegal mining, nuclear-waste dumbing, mega-dam projects and subjugation of Tibetan’s innate environmental-friendly lifestyle has gravely affected its fragile environment.
China’s effort in tackling the impacts of climate change and to lead in green energy can not be trusted when environmental activists are subjugated to trial and imprisonment instead.
The experts called on China to show its commitment to challenge climate change by refraining “from persecuting environmental human rights defenders and release all nine immediately.”
The imprisoned HRDs include individuals who were actively involved in environmental protection work:
Anya Sengdra: An environmental activist and anti-corruption human rights defender, Anya Sengdra was arrested on September 4, 2018, in Qinghai Province. He faced alleged beatings and was denied access to legal counsel for the initial 48 hours of his detention. He was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of "disturbing public order" and "provoking trouble." His trial revealed that discussions he facilitated on WeChat, covering topics such as corruption and environmental protection, were deemed harmful to "social order." His appeal was rejected on June 17, 2020.
Dorjee Daktal and Kelsang Choklang: Both were arrested in 2013 in connection with an environmental protest opposing mining operations at Naglha Dzamba, a sacred mountain in Biru County. Dorjee Daktal was sentenced to 11 years in prison on multiple charges, including leading the protest. Kelsang Choklang, arrested for his role in anti-mining protests in Biru County, received a ten-year prison sentence.
Dhongye, Rinchen Namdol, Tsultrim Gonpo, Jangchup Ngodup, Sogru Abhu, and Namsey: These individuals from Shaqu Township, Biru County, were arrested in 2018. They were part of a group of 30 Tibetans detained for protesting against mining activities near Sebtra Zagyen sacred mountain or sharing information about these protests. While they were found guilty of "engaging in separatist activity," specific details of their sentencing, access to legal counsel, and their current health and prison conditions remain undisclosed.
The UN communication expresses serious concerns regarding the imprisonment of these HRDs and the lack of transparency surrounding their arrests, sentencing, and conditions in prison. The physical well-being of the HRDs, especially those with unknown whereabouts, is a significant concern, as is their access to adequate medical care while in detention. States have a heightened duty of care to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty.
Moreover, the communication raises concerns about due process violations, including limited access to legal counsel and the alleged breach of the HRDs' right not to be arbitrarily detained. Inadequate conditions of detention can pose serious risks to the lives and well-being of those incarcerated.
Read the complete communication here
Edited and collated by Team TRC