The case of well-known Tibetan environmentalist, businessman and philanthropist Karma Samdrup, sentenced to 15 years in prison on June 24, 2010, by a court in Xinjiang, has been highly unusual in that those monitoring the case were able to see events unfolding almost in real time, thanks to the blog and Twitter output of Karma Samdrup's wife, Dolkar Tso, and Karma Samdrup's lawyer, the reknowned Chinese civil rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang.
The trial of Karma Samdrup that started on June 22 ended with his heavy sentencing on June 24 on charges of “grave-robbing”, charges that had actually been dropped 12 years earlier by the authorities. Throughout those few days of the trial, Pu Zhiqiang was using Twitter to document the case as it unfolded. The verdict of 15 years was made known to Pu Zhiqiang's followers, over 10.000 of them, just hours after it was announced. Below is a screenshot of Pu Zhiqiang's Tweet announcing the verdict:
At the same time, Karma Samdrup's wife, Dolkar Tso, also present in the courtroom in Xinjiang for the duration of the trial, was also documenting events and writing about her thoughts and feelings on her blog, hosted on the popular Chinese blog portal Sohu.com. Below is a screenshot of one of Dolkar Tso's early blogs:
Dolkar Tso persistently continued to use Sohu as her blog-hosting site despite her blog being closed down several times. Dolkar Tso's blogging activities were monitored and reported by Tibetan writer, poet and blogger Woeser on her blog. Woeser was often quick to re-post articles from both Dolkar Tso and Pu Zhiqiang's blogs before the posts were removed.
According to Woeser's blogposts, Dolkar Tso opened several blogs one after the other starting on June 2 with http://drolkartso.blog.sohu.com, the day when it was suddenly announced that the date of Karma Samdrup's trial was to be postponed. This blog was shut down after just one day.
The second blog, http://drolkar.blog.sohu.com/ was started on June 21 but was closed down after 5 days, shortly after Karma Samdrup's sentence was announced. The post that Dolkar Tso wrote on her second blog, expressing her worries for her husband titled “Praying” was translated into English by High Peaks Pure Earth and subsequently quoted in an article in TIME magazine:
“The account we heard … exceeded our worst imaginations,” his wife Dolkar Tso wrote in a blog post that was translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, a website that monitors Tibetan source material. “We heard about hundreds of different cruel torture methods, maltreatment around the clock, hitherto unheard of torture instruments and drugs, hard and soft tactics, and even of fellow prisoners being grouped together to extract a confession.”
The third blog http://drolkar3.blog.sohu.com/, started on June 27 was closed down after 6 days on July 3.
The fourth blog http://drolkar4.blog.sohu.com/ was started on July 3, the day that Karma Samdrup's brother, environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup, was sentenced to 5 years in prison in a separate case taking place in Chamdo, Tibet. The blog was closed down after 3 days.
The fifth blog http://drolkar5.blog.sohu.com/ was started on July 6 and appears to still be online at the time of writing, below is a screenshot of the blog:
Underneath her photograph on her blog is this passage:
“Regardless of nationality, regardless of geography, seek only mercy and justice. No lies, no flattery, only perseverance and calm. What good comes of deleting this post or this blog?”
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang's personal blog survived the duration of the trial and crucially he was even able to photograph and upload all 10 pages of Karma Samdrup's sentencing documents on the evening of the sentencing. The documents were re-posted almost immediately on Woeser's blog.
However, on July 15, the blog was closed down, below is the error message that appears when trying to access http://puzhiqianglawyer.blog.sohu.com/
Since then, Pu Zhiqiang has been blogging on a new blog but still hosted on Sohu: http://lawyerpuzhiqiang.blog.sohu.com/ As he notes in the top bar of the blog, it is his 13th blog. A few days ago, ChinaGeeks reported that lawyer and blogger Liu Xiaoyuan had his Sohu blog closed down on July 12, 2010.
Whilst an unprecedented amount of information was reaching the internet and the wider world throughout this case, what is also demonstrated here is the sheer persistence and determination required by civil society activists in the PRC to be heard using social media, as well as the importance of online networks of support to re-post articles and to spread the word on shuttered blogs that may have moved or reincarnated elsewhere.