World News

Tibetan environmentalist jailed for 5 years

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court sentenced a Tibetan environmentalist who organized villagers to pick up litter and plant trees to five years in jail for inciting to split the nation on Saturday, his lawyer said.

Rinchen Samdrup, the third brother in his family to be jailed, ran an environmental NGO in mountainous Gonjo county, in the Tibet Autonomous Region near Sichuan Province.

The NGO mobilized about 1,700 local villagers to reforest the area and report poaching, and ran a small magazine. It worked with international conservation groups and was praised by Chinese media.

The Chamdo prefecture court found Samdrup guilty of incitement to split the country, lawyer Xia Jun told Reuters.

The Tibetan environmentalist had pleaded not guilty but was convicted and deprived of its political rights for three years.

He was accused of posting a pro-Dalai Lama article on his website, the lawyer said.

He has 10 days to appeal the sentence.

Exile Tibetan groups say he ran afoul of powerful local interests after accusing a local police officer of poaching.

In June his brother Karma Samdrup, a wealthy collector of antique black-and-white Tibetan amulet beads, was sentenced to 15 years in jail by a court in neighboring Xinjiang for excavating and robbing ancient tombs, a charge originally brought and dropped in 1998.

Karma Samdrup had tried to defend his brothers.

Late last year, the youngest brother, Jigme Namgyal, was sentenced to 21 months of re-education through labor for endangering state security for assisting Rinchen Samdrup in running his NGO.

The court found he had helped compile three audio-visual disks on the ecology of the region, possessed materials regarding exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, incited locals to interfere with government work and tried to register the NGO with the government.

Several Tibetan 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 for years.

Tibetans across the region rose up in March 2008, following bloody riots in Lhasa on March 14 of that year. China accuses the Dalai Lama and exile Tibetan followers of instigating the unrest. He denies the charge.

Reporting by Lucy Hornby, Benjamin Kang Lim and Karen Yeung; Editing by Sugita Katyal