Updated at 11:20 a.m. EST on 2013-02-27
A young Tibetan traditional artist was sentenced to two years in a reeducation-through-labor facility for having photos on his mobile phone of two compatriots who self-immolated in protest against Chinese rule, according to exile sources Saturday.
Ngawang Tobden, 20, was detained in October last year in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), but relatives learned of the sentence for "subversion" only four months later, the sources said, citing contacts in the Himalayan region.
"His relatives and family couldn’t see him at all until he was sent to the Toelung Shungpa jail near Lhasa," Tibetan Yeshe Gyaltsen, who lives near India's hill town of Dharamsala, told RFA's Tibetan Service.
"The relatives said there weren’t any court proceedings nor were family and relatives informed when he was sentenced,” he said.
According to Yeshe Gyaltsen, the relatives said they saw many other Tibetans from the TAR's Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) and Nagchu (Naqu) prefectures serving sentences on unspecified charges at the same facility.
Chinese authorities have been cracking down hard on any efforts by Tibetans to publicize self-immolation protests after steps taken by Beijing to stop the burnings failed.
Some 104 Tibetans have so far set themselves ablaze in protests questioning Chinese rule in Tibetan-majority areas and calling for the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Ngawang Tobden, who had been studying traditional Tibetan thangka art in Lhasa, was detained on Oct. 21 after Chinese security personnel discovered on his cell phone two photos of Tibetan self-immolators along with images of a Tibetan national flag and of "repression" by Chinese security forces on Tibetans, sources said.
"Owing to this, he was arrested and detained at Lhasa police station for several days and thoroughly interrogated. Afterward he was transferred to the Gutsa detention center and there he was interrogated again [for possession of the photos]," Yeshe Gyaltsen said.
"Finally, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment."
Ngawang Tobden was accused of "subversion, propagating incorrect political messages, and causing disharmony among ethnic minorities," he said.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Ngawang Tobden's name.