A court in northwestern China’s Qinghai province has handed a two-year jail term to a Tibetan monk accused of passing a photo of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to friends via social media, sources in the region and in exile said.
Gomar Choephel, 47, was sentenced on Feb. 17 by the People’s Intermediate Court in the Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“He had already been detained for several months, and has now been sentenced for circulating a photo of the Dalai Lama through social media, and also for having the photo in his personal possession,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He was convicted of undermining social stability and of taking actions aimed at splitting the country,” the source said.
Choephel, a monk of the Rongwo monastery in Malho’s Rebgong (Tongren) county, is currently being held in the county’s Drakmar detention center, the source added.
Initially detained on July 10, 2015, Choephel had been held without trial for about seven months and “was only recently sentenced,” the source said.
Speaking separately, a Tibetan living in exile in India confirmed that Choephel had first been taken into custody last year, citing contacts of his own in Rebgong.
“Gomar Choephel was detained last year for sending the Dalai Lama’s photo through his phone onto social media and for keeping the photo in his possession,” the source, named Tenzin, told RFA.
If the seven months already spent in detention are counted toward his sentence, Choephel will have to serve a year and four months before he is released, sources told RFA’s Tibetan and Mandarin Services.
The 80-year-old Dalai Lama, whose photos are banned by Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas, fled Tibet into exile in India in 1959 and is reviled by Chinese leaders as a dangerous separatist who seeks to split the formerly self-governing region from Beijing’s rule.
In what he calls a Middle Way Approach, though, the Dalai Lama himself says that he seeks only a “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet as a part of China, with protections for the region’s language, religion, and culture.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service and by Dan Zhen for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee and by Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Richard Finney.