HONG KONG—Chinese authorities in the remote western province of Gansu have sentenced two Tibetan students to two-year jail terms in connection with protests at a local middle school, an exiled Tibetan source said.
"Thubten Nyima is 17 years old this year, and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment," said Dolkar Kyab, an exiled Tibetan from Gansu's Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture now living in northern India.
"Tsering Dhondup is 17, and he was sentenced to two years in jail," he added.
He said the youths were sentenced on Sept. 12 by the Gannan Municipal Intermediate People's Court and transferred to a prison in Gansu's Tianshui city on Oct. 12.
Neither of the two had been assisted by lawyers, Dolkar Kyab said.
"Because they came from a nomadic background, they did not know how to arrange for legal help, and out of fear of reprisal, they didn't dare try."
Both students were detained in March and accused of leading protests by some 30 students from the Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county Tibetan Middle School on the second anniversary of Tibetan unrest sparked by clashes in Lhasa on March 14, 2008.
Local sources said at the time that at least 40 people were detained following the protests in Machu.
Authorities fired the school’s headmaster in the ensuing crackdown. Two Tibetan assistants were also dismissed from their jobs.
The students then staged a hunger strike on campus to call for the reinstatement of school staff.
An official who answered the phone at the Kanlho county education bureau denied the sentencing had taken place.
"No, no it didn't," said the official. "Where are you calling from?"
A Tibetan official who answered the phone at the county religious affairs department said he was unfamiliar with the case. "I don't know about this," he said. "It wouldn't come through our department."
Calls to the Machu Tibetan Middle School went unanswered during working hours on Thursday.
Dolkar Kyab said two other students, Ngawang Lhamo from Machu's Maza village, and Rabten Dorje from Mama village, were also expelled from school for criticizing the government's patriotic re-education campaign in April this year.
"The police said that no other schools would be allowed to accept them once they had been expelled by their school," he added.
Dozens of students at the Tibetan Middle School staged a protest March 14 on the second anniversary of a region-wide uprising against Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas of western China.
The students were joined by 500 to 600 other Tibetans, according to local residents, protesting their lack of freedom and calling for Tibetan independence.
Following the protest, the school’s headmaster, Kyabchen Dedrol, and two assistants—Do Re and Choekyong Tseten—were dismissed from their jobs, sources said.
Local authorities also fired Sonam Tse, head of the Kanlho Public Security Office.
Classes at the school were suspended for a month, with students instead subjected to courses of "political re-education."
On March 16, students at a second school, Kanlho Tibetan Middle School No. 3, also protested, but were stopped from leaving school grounds by school security officials and teachers.
Police surrounded the students and forced them back into the school compound, according to a resident, who added that 20 students were detained and later released after being interrogated.
Security has been tight inside Tibetan regions of China since a peaceful protest in March 2008 prompted a crackdown and ignited a region-wide uprising.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.