A court in China’s Qinghai province has sentenced nine Tibetan villagers to long prison terms for creating an informal organization urging authorities to return community land taken by authorities but then left unused since 2011, a Tibetan rights group said this week.
The nine, all residents of Horgyal village in Qinghai’s Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county, were handed terms of from three to seven years by the County People’s Court for running an “illegal organization,” the Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said on April 19.
Authorities had additionally accused the men—Gendun Soepa, Drukbum Tsering, Bende Dorje, Tashi Tsering, Sonam Gyal, Dargye, Shawo Tsering, Khajam Gyal, and Choesang—of usurping the duties of already established village committees and of “gathering people to disturb social order,” TCHRD said in its statement.
Detained in July 2018, the nine men were formally arrested in August, TCHRD said, citing information provided by sources in the region.
“The arrests were made to suppress a long-running campaign by villagers to reclaim community land expropriated by local government for a failed business enterprise,” TCHRD said.
By jailing the men, authorities had also sought to undermine traditional village leadership structures seen as a threat to control by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the rights group said.
In a petition signed on Feb, 21, 2017, the nine, part of a larger group of 24, had mobilized village support to demand the return of Horgyal village land handed over for use by three brick factories in exchange for lease payments to the village that ended when the works were closed down by government order in 2011.
For the next seven years, authorities compensated the factories annually for their loss of business, though payments to the Horgyal village government then stopped, TCHRD said, adding that villagers had called since then for the land’s return.
Two years before, a Tibetan monastery in Rebgong had appealed for the return of property formerly leased to a teacher’s college but seized by local officials are the college moved to a new location, Tibetan sources told RFA in an earlier report.
The property, comprising one third of the total estate of Rongwo monastery, was confiscated in 2016, and monks had petitioned ever since for its return, sources said.
Chinese development projects in Tibetan areas have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms and local officials of improperly seizing land and disrupting the lives of local people.
Many result in violent suppression, the detention of protest organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government’s wishes.
Reported and translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.