BEIJING: A Tibetan environmentalist once praised as a model philanthropist was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of grave-robbing and dealing in looted antiquities, in a case supporters said was aimed at punishing his activism.

The trial of Karma Samdrup came after he spoke up for his two brothers, also environmental activists, who were detained after accusing local officials in eastern Tibet of poaching endangered species.

Authorities in tightly controlled Tibet are extremely sensitive to social activism and criticism, either explicit or implied.

The cases come amid increased repression of Tibetan intellectuals, an echo of the massive security crackdown that followed rioting in the capital, Lhasa, in 2008.

In addition to the prison sentence yesterday, Karma Samdrup was stripped of his political rights for five years and fined 10,000 yuan ($2087) after a three-day trial, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said.

Pu complained of irregularities in the trial, including witnesses who testified against Karma Samdrup that defence lawyers did not recognise. Court documents had removed evidence favourable to his client and added new testimony against him, he said, and the indictment had been translated from Chinese into a Tibetan dialect different from the one spoken by Karma Samdrup, that he did not understand.

Karma Samdrup's wife and lawyers have accused police of torturing him in custody. In his statement to the court, he said that during months of interrogation officers beat him, deprived him of sleep for days and drugged him with a substance that made his eyes and ears bleed.

Last month, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet published a report saying 31 Tibetans are now in prison "after reporting or expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing information about Chinese Government policies and their impact in Tibet today".

- AP