Tibetan Web Site Founder Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

November 17, 2009 4:24 pm Last Updated: October 1, 2015 9:12 pm

Kunchok Tsephel, an official in a Chinese government environmental department and founder of the influential Tibetan literary website. (Courtesy of International Campaign for Tibet)
Kunchok Tsephel, an official in a Chinese government environmental department and founder of the influential Tibetan literary website. (Courtesy of International Campaign for Tibet)
The founder of an influential Tibetan literary Web site was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a closed-door trial on Nov. 12.

Kunchok Tsephel, 39, is accused of “divulging state secrets,” a vague charge used by the Chinese authorities to punish dissidents of all stripes. Under such laws, the Chinese authorities are not required to explain which state secrets the defendant is alleged to have divulged.

The charges probably relate to content posted on his Web site, Chodme (butter lamp), which seeks to protect Tibetan culture. He is also accused of passing on information about last year’s protests in Tibet, according to the activist group which released the news.

His family saw him for the first time in nearly nine months last week. They were called to the Intermediate People’s Court of Gannan Prefecture, in Gansu Province, to hear the jail sentence, according to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

Kunchock had been detained since Feb. 26, when police ransacked his house and whisked him away in the early hours of the morning, according to ICT. His friends are said to be worried for his health after nine months of detention and interrogation.

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“His family has endured nine months of agonizing waiting after Kunchok disappeared in February. Now they are even more distraught by this long sentence,” said one of Kunchok Tsephel’s close friends who is now in exile, according to ICT. “Because the charges related to state secrets, they do not even know why Kunchok has been sentenced to 15 years, and he has been denied access to a lawyer.”

Kunchok was detained for the first time in 1995 for suspected involvement in activities deemed political. He was tortured in custody and released without charge after two months, according to ICT.

As an employee of the environmental department, Kunchock was the family’s main bread winner. His wife, who also works in the government, now cares for their sick daughter.

The heavy prison sentence came just days before President Obama’s visit to China. Obama has called on Chinese Hu Jintao to improve the Communist Party's treatment of ethnic minorities.