Friday, January 10, 2014

John Gaudette on a Chinese cover-up of a self-immolation


During our time in Dharmasala, two more Tibetans burned themselves, bringing the total to 124. We participated in candle marches and vigils for those who gave their lives in protest. It is, of course, a sign of the horror of Chinese ethnic cleansing, the attempt to demonize the Dalai Lama and settle Han Chinese in Tibet (there are now perhaps 8 million for 6 million Tibetans), that people take up this form of nonviolent protest. See here, here, here, here, and here.

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Sometimes, as in the case of Thich Quang Duc during the Vietnam War, these protests achieve a large effect. See here. Often, they are just signs of fierce discontent under authoritarian conditions (such conditions often exist in supposedly democratic regimes, i.e.. the U.S. government toward indigenous people or slaves or in the Jim Crow South). On a nonviolent strategy for the current struggle of Tibetans, see here.

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The Chinese revolution and the current Chinese government have, sadly, never recognized the importance of the rule of law or treating protest with decency (instead, they have tried to match the 19th century United States toward indigenous people...). John Gaudette, my former student and an international lawyer working for the Tibetan Committee on Human Rights and Democracy, has written the story of Kungchuk Wangmo, who burned herself on March 13, 2013 (the 109th person to do so) and Dolma Kyab, her husband.

Having destroyed physical evidence (cremated the Kungchak Wangmo's burned body), the Chinese government arrested Dolma Kyab on a charge of murdering his wife and has sentenced him to death.

To find the right word for the foulness of this is hard. Is it not enough suffering that someone's wife sacrifices herself for her people without this?

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What John reveals is one of the most shameful things about the current Chinese regime. Dolma Kyab needs help. There needs be an international campaign - so far barely begun (see below) - to make the Chinese government realize that conducting itself decently is not only the right thing to do (time to enter the modern world about the law and human rights), but is the only way to secure a peaceful and decent future for China.

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Here is the note John sent me:

"Dear Alan,

I wrote something for you on Dolma Kyab's murder conviction (attached and copied below). I am sorry it took me so long to get it to you. We have been in the final push to finish a 90 page report or reeducation through labor (which was repealed on the 28th) and our annual report. It seems that we are mostly done now though...

All the best,
John"

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"Late at night on 13 March 2013 Kunchok Wangmo burned herself on a main street in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) Prefecture in Sichuan Province. She was the 109th person and 15th women to commit a self-immolation protest against Chinese rule. The Tibetan NGOs that try to keep track of the self-immolations and get information out of China received information that Kunchok Wangmo’s had committed a self-immolation protest and that the police had quickly confiscated her body. She was 29 and is survived by her parents, her husband, and their seven year old daughter.

The confiscation of the bodies of self-immolators serves two purposes. First, it prevents family members and monastics from performing traditional Buddhist rituals for the deceased. It also prevents protests, though at times there have been protests as Tibetans try to protect the body. In some cases, the Chinese authorities have placed family members of self-immolators under de facto house arrest and prevented people from offering condolences.

In the case of Kunchok Wangmo, the authorities took her burned body and quickly cremated it. While a self-immolation involves burning a body it does not burn the body completely (as shown in photos of another self-immolator here). To cremate a body completely it must be exposed to high heat (1,100 Fahrenheit, or 593 Celsius) for two to three hours.

The day after Kunchok’s Wangmo’s self-immolation the police returned her, now cremated remains, to her parents and her husband Dolma Kyab. When they returned the ashes they also pressured Kunchok Wangmo’s parents and Dolma Kyab to say that she had burned herself as a result over a domestic dispute. There have been reports that in similar circumstances the Chinese authorities have offered the families money if they agree to the official narrative. See here. Dolma Kyab and Kunchok Wangmo’s parents did not.

As a result, Dolma Kyab was arrested and charged with murdering his wife after they had an argument. Officially, Dolma Kyab was alledged to have strangled his wife with a scarf when she confronted him about his drinking problem on the night of 11 March 2013. Apparently, he had promised to give up drinking and been caught drinking. In the following argument Dolma Kyab’s wife wrapped a scarf around her neck pretending to strangle herself. Dolma Kyab then took the scarf and killed her. He then burned her body at 2am on 12 March 2013.

Even on its face there are substantial problems with the official narrative. There is no explanation of how or why sources inside Tibet said the self-immolation had occurred 21 hours later on a main street. (Before any news organizations or Tibetan NGOs report on a self-immolation they get confirmation that a self-immolation occurred and the details from multiple sources.) Even if the timeline is correct it would assume that Dolma Kyab dragged his wife’s body out of his apartment and to the main street before igniting her body.

More troubling is the lack of any physical evidence supporting the official story. Because the authorities quickly cremated Kunchok Wangmo’s body there was no time for an autopsy. If she had been strangled an autopsy could have revealed important evidence, such as a fracture to the hyoid bone, which occurs in 1/3 of all strangulations. The quick cremation and the return of the ashes to Dolma Kyab and Kunchok Wangmo’s parents suggests that the authorities did not believe at the time that there was a murder and that they had no physical evidence from the body. At the time of his arrest, Dolma Kyab and Kunchok Wangmo’s parents both insisted that there were no domestic problems and Kunchok Wangmo had committed a self-immolation. Kunchok Wangmo’s parents still do.

After Dolma Kyab was arrested no news was heard about his status until it was announced five months later that he had been sentenced to death for his wife’s murder. His open trial lasted less than three hours. As is common in China, the trial did not seem to address Dolma Kyab’s guilt or innocence but instead how severe his sentence should be. According to the 2009 Chinese Law Yearbook, there is a 99.9% conviction rate in criminal cases. With a conviction almost guaranteed, most criminal trials focus on the self-criticism and remorse from the defendant in the hopes of getting a reduced sentence. Dolma Kyab confessed to killing his wife and acting impulsively. He was sentenced to death.

Torture is common in China, particularly when people are subject to secret detention without supervision. The effectiveness of torture by the Chinese getting false confessions, and particularly clean torture that does not leave any visible marks, was made famous in the United States during the Korean War when POWs would “confess” to atrocities. The clean torture techniques in China involve suspending people from the ceiling by their thumbs, wrists or feet. In the 1980s, the Chinese began using electricity, which can cause intense pain without leaving a mark.

We do not know if Dolma Kyab was tortured. All that we know is that when he was arrested he refused to agree with the authorities’ story about his wife’s death. Five months later at trial he confessed to the authorities’ story in every detail. His parents-in-law still do not believe the story. Accounts of Dolma Kyab’s trial imply that he was conviction and death sentence were based entirely on his confession. As Kunchok Wangmo’s body was created it is not clear what physical evidence could have been introduced at the trial.

Dolma Kyab’s conviction was international news and TCHRD was one of many organizations that voiced skepticism about his confession and trial. TCHRD asked the UN Special Rapporteurs on Arbitrary Detention and Summary Executions to look into the matter. Right now, we are waiting to hear about Dolma Kyab’s appeal. As somebody sentenced to the death penalty he is given an automatic appeal. The appeal court must issue a judgment within 3-5 months of receiving the case (2-4 months after a hearing).

It is possible that on appeal Dolma Kyab will have his sentence reduced to a “suspended death sentence,” which is the same as life in prison. With public attention this could be a chance for the Chinese to appear merciful while still sending a strong message to other would-be self-immolators. If the appeals court upholds Dolma Kyab’s death sentence it will be sent to the People’s Supreme Court for approval. If the Supreme Court approves the death penalty Dolma Kyab must be executed within seven days.

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In another note, John recommends contacting the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

"Dear Alan,

We submitted urgent appeals to the UN Special Rapporteurs. If they do anything they will talk to China privately. I do not know of any campaigns TCHRD is connected with (as you noticed we are not community organizers). I did find a campaign on Tibet Truth (http://tibettruth.com/2013/08/19/save-an-innocent-tibetan-from-execution/) asking people to email the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council (infoDest@ohchr.org). I will ask around to see anyone knows of other campaigns but for now that is probably your best bet.

All the best,

John"

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For more information, see here, here, here and here.

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