More Jailed Over Self-Immolation

Rights groups see political motive behind sentences handed down to Tibetan monks.

Undated photo of Nagten, who received a 10-year jail term.

Two more Tibetan monks were sentenced to jail by a Chinese court on Tuesday over the self-immolation death of a fellow monk amid an outcry by rights groups, some of whom accused Beijing of carrying out a "political persecution."

The monks, both named Lobsang Tenzin, were convicted by a court in the southwestern province of Sichuan for "aiding and abetting" the March death of Kirti monastery-based monk Phuntsog, who set himself ablaze to protest Chinese rule in Tibet, sources told RFA.

On Monday, another monk, Lobsang Tsondru (in Chinese, Drongdru), 46, was convicted of "intentional homicide," accused of having prevented the badly burned Phuntsog from getting medical treatment, according to an announcement by the Maerkang County People's Court.

Phuntsog died in hospital, triggering protests and prompting a clampdown by Chinese authorities around the Kirti monastery in Sichuan's mountainous Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture.

Contradictory accounts

The charges faced by the trio contradict accounts by witnesses and rights groups  who had said that Chinese police beat, kicked, and threw bricks at Phuntsog both as he burned and after the flames were put out.

One of the two monks convicted Tuesday, nicknamed Tenzin Gyamo-Kha and aged 22, was sentenced to 13 years in jail. He was not represented by a lawyer of his family's choice and had rejected the charges.

"The court, with no regard for his not-guilty plea, imposed the 13-year jail term on him," said Kanyag Tsering, a Kirti monk living in exile in India's hill town Dharamsala.

"His family was not given the opportunity to hire a lawyer," he said.

Tenzin Gyamo-Kha was arrested on March 23 at the Kirti Monastery, and his whereabouts were unknown until recently.

The second monk convicted Tuesday, nicknamed Nagten and aged 21, was ordered jailed for 10 years.

'Patently unjust'

Undated photo of Tenzin Gyamo-Kha, ordered jailed for 13 years.

Speaking on Tuesday, Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said the cases were politically motivated.

"This is a patently unjust verdict at the outcome of a purely political prosecution," he told Agence France-Presse after the conviction of Lobsang Tsondru on Monday.

"It comes against a background of unprecedented persecution against the monastery of Kirti, from where the government has already taken into arbitrary detention dozens of monks."

Kirti monastery has remained extremely tense since security forces shot dead several protesters in March 2008, Bequelin said.

Jampel Monlam, assistant director of the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, told RFA on Monday that attempts were made by Kirti monks to save Phuntsog.

"The Chinese Communist Party is trying to place responsibility for this on the lamas at Kirti, by saying that they are murderers," he said. "They are confusing black with white."

"Sentencing a monk who appears to have only attempted to protect Phuntsog after his solitary act only compounds the agony for Kirti monks," said Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, AFP reported

"By doing so the Chinese government aims to deflect attention from the real reasons for the self-immolation, which was an expression of anguish and sacrifice due to intense repression including new measures to suppress religious practice in Tibetan areas."

U.N. rebuffed

Phuntsog was the second monk at Kirti to set himself on fire since the anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa of March 2008, the bloodiest in Tibet in 20 years.

Beijing has rejected calls from a U.N. human rights panel to provide information about the whereabouts of more than 300 of Kirti's monks who remain unaccounted for since the monastery was raided in April.

China’s Foreign Ministry said only that the monks are undergoing "legal education."

Chinese authorities frequently carry out "political re-education" of Tibetan monks, who are put under pressure to renounce their allegiance to the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Phuntsog's death was echoed in a second self-immolation death in nearby Kardze prefecture, also in Sichuan, earlier this month.

On Aug. 15, Tsewang Norbu, a 29-year-old monk from Kardze's Nyitso monastery, set fire to himself outside the Tawu county government offices after handing out leaflets calling for human rights for Tibetans and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Kardze has been the scene of repeated Tibetan protests, both by individuals and by small groups, despite the threat of detentions and violent assaults against protesters by Chinese police.

Kirti monastery is still under tight guard by security forces, who are accused by pro-Tibetan groups overseas of beating onlookers and detaining monks.

No foreign journalists have been permitted to visit the region.

Reported and translated by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA's Tibetan Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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Sep 01, 2011 04:01 AM

These recent convictions for "intentional homicide" violated due process rights under PRC law. The monks were denied effective legal counsel and a trial and the evidence against was not made public. Therefore their convictions should be overturned. I hope an effective, independent Chinese lawyer will come forward to handle their legal appeals.

Aug 30, 2011 01:18 PM

Tibetan people want freedom; China will never be a great and lasting world power until the Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhism are free from China’s precaution. Long life to the Dalai Lama!