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Tibetan in prison for more than a year for sending texts and e-mails

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned a three-year prison sentence against mountain guide Gonpo Tserang for sending text messages and e-mails abroad. The messages related to March 2008 demonstrations against the Chinese authorities.

Gonpo was found guilty of "incitement to separatism" in the autonomous Tibetan prefecture of Degen, in Yunnan, southern China on 26 April 2008.

"This sentence is unacceptable because it punishes an ordinary citizen who circulated information about the situation in Tibet that the foreign media were banned from covering," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The offending messages had nothing to do with incitement to separatism and Tserang did not send them with that intention. We call for the suspension of his sentence and for his release," the organisation said.

According to information gleaned from Tibetan organisations, Tserang, 33, was arrested on 23 March 2008 and is currently imprisoned in Yunnan's Xianggelila jail. The authorities alleged that from 16-18 March 2008, Tserang used the Internet and his mobile phone to send provocative messages twisting the real facts and social order in the Tibetan province after the 'incident' of 14 March 2008.

In the Degen prefecture's verdict, it was stressed that "Tserang used the Internet to deliberately fabricate rumours twisting the facts and inciting separatism." The Internet user was sentenced under Article 103 (2) of the Chinese criminal code under which "if a counter-revolutionary crime is behind a savage criticism of the state and if the circumstances are particularly flagrant, the death sentence is possible."

Since March 2008, Reporters Without Borders has recorded a significant increase in trials of Tibetans accused of sending information abroad, mainly to Tibetan communities in exile. To the organisation's knowledge, seven people have been sentenced between October and November by the intermediary court in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, to sentences of up to life imprisonment.

According to a study by Chinese dissident organisation Gongmeng, published in June 2009 and written by four Chinese researchers, accusations of "separatism" are a means of "concealing management errors by local leaders". During the riots in March 2008, foreign journalists were unable to cover the events and official Chinese media completely ignored them.

A Tibetan monk was also arrested on 11 March 2009 and accused of "separatism" after giving the Tibetan community in exile information about demonstrations and arrests in the province. Tibetan web-journalist Namkha Sonam Drakpa had to leave Tibet on 5 May for possessing and distributing photos of the Dalai Lama. For fear of being discovered by the province's Chinese authorities, he fled to India and now works for a Chinese online publication based in the United States.

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