Chinese courts on Thursday convicted eight Tibetans accused of encouraging self-immolation protests against Beijing’s rule or of blocking government efforts to stop the burnings, according to state media.
One of them was handed a suspended death sentence, believed to be the first time such a harsh sentence had been imposed on offenses linked to the self-immolations that have occurred since 2009.
Others were given long terms in prison, state media said.
Human rights experts questioned the convictions, saying the harsh court decisions were based on weak evidence, and attacked the Chinese authorities for pouring immense resources into prosecuting Tibetans over the self-immolations rather than into ameliorating their concerns.
Lorang Konchok, 40, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by the Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Intermediate Court in Sichuan province “for inciting eight people to self-immolate, three of whom died,” China’s official Xinhua news service reported.
Lorang Konchok’s nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, received a 10-year prison term in the same case, Xinhua said.
Also on Thursday, the Sangchu (in Chinese, Xiahe) County People’s Court in Gansu province sentenced six Tibetans to prison terms ranging from three to 12 years for their alleged involvement in an October 23 protest in which Dorje Rinchen, a local villager, set himself on fire and died.
Padma Tamdru, Kelsang Gyamuktso, Padma Co, and Lhamo Tamdru were convicted of “intentional homicide” for their roles in blocking police efforts to “rescue” the self-immolator, Xinhua said, and were sentenced to 12, 11, eight, and seven years in jail, respectively.
Two other defendants, Do Gekyap and Yang Monje, were handed four and three-year terms respectively for “causing a chaotic scene” and disrupting local traffic following the burning, Xinhua said.
Tibetan regions of China have been rocked in recent years by a wave of self-immolation protests by Tibetans challenging Beijing’s rule and calling for the return from exile of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Ninety-eight have set themselves ablaze so far as they highlighted Tibetan calls for freedom and for cultural, religious, and language rights.
China on the other hand has defended its rule of Tibet and has accused the Dalai Lama and his supporters of orchestrating the self-immolations from their exile base in India.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the sentencing “amply demonstrates this backdrop of incitement and abetting,” according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
But Tibetan exile leaders, while publicly honoring what they call the “sacrifices” made by self-immolators, have denied involvement in the burnings and have called on Tibetans in Tibet to refrain from “drastic actions.”
In the case of Lorang Konchok and his nephew, China director for Human Rights Watch Sophie Richardson expressed concern that while the two men may have discussed the self-immolation protests occurring in their area, “there doesn’t seem to be much actual evidence of incitement.”
“I think that it’s always problematic, particularly in a context of extremely poor legal proceedings and a history of politicized prosecutions, to move ahead with a case that’s based entirely on confessions, which this appears to have been,” Richardson said.
“The Chinese government appears to be expending considerable resources on prosecuting and criminalizing immolations, but not on understanding or ameliorating the concerns that appear to be driving them.”
Reported by Richard Finney.