China: Investigate Torture Allegations in Tibet Philanthropist Trial

The Chinese government should immediately drop trumped-up charges against Karma Samdrup and investigate the serious and detailed allegations of torture in detention he and his lawyers made in court on June 22, 2010, Human Rights Watch said today.

Karma Samdrup is a prominent Tibetan environmental philanthropist, and one of China’s leading collectors of Tibetan art. He is currently being tried in Yanqi, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on what appear to be dated and trumped-up charges of grave-robbing.

In the court hearing yesterday, Karma Samdrup said that during several months of interrogation, officers repeatedly beat him, ordered fellow detainees to beat him, deprived him of sleep for days on end, and drugged him with a substance that made his eyes and ears bleed – all to extract a confession. He also said he was forced to sign IOUs at extortionist rates for everything provided to him by the prison, including meals and showers. He has nonetheless refused to sign a self-incriminating statement and has entered a plea of not guilty. In court yesterday, he appeared physically weak and 20 to 30 kilograms lighter, his wife reported.

The case has been marked by severe and numerous procedural violations and restrictions on his right to defense. The allegations of torture now raise further questions about the credibility of the prosecution’s case. Karma Samdrup’s lawyers have also challenged the reliability of deposition testimonies presented by the prosecution, including one confession they say was manifestly forged, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch said Karma Samdrup’s trial was a test case for the government’s commitment to halting torture of criminal suspects in custody to prevent miscarriages of justice. On May 30, China’s Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security, and Ministry of Justice issued joint regulations aimed at halting the use of evidence obtained through torture. The rules should nullify evidence gathered through violence or intimidation and give defendants the ability to challenge confessions presented during their trials.

Human Rights Watch has stressed that the rules were unlikely to make a difference unless they were accompanied by significant reforms such as granting the right to silence to protect suspects from self-incrimination, effective remedies in instances of violations of the right of the defense, and prosecution of law enforcement agents guilty of having tortured criminal suspects.

"Karma Samdrup’s trial is an important test case for the Chinese government’s stance towards torture," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "If the government doesn’t investigate torture allegations in a manifestly trumped-up case, what hope can ordinary defendants have?"

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