Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province handed jail terms on Wednesday to a young Tibetan convicted of calling in public for the release of Tibetan spiritual leader the Panchen Lama and also to his aunt, who was accused of spreading word of the young man’s protest, Tibetan sources said.
Wangchen, 20, who was arrested on April 29, was sentenced by the Sershul County People’s Court in Sichuan’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture to a term of four years and six months for leading “a conspicuous protest in public against the law of the land,” a Tibetan living in India told RFA, citing sources in the region.
Meanwhile, Wangchen’s aunt Acha Dolkar was handed a prison term of one year and three months for her role in sharing news of Wangchen’s protest with contacts outside the region, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Two other Tibetans, identified only as Lobsang and Yonten, were each fined 15,000 yuan (U.S. $2,211) and ordered to attend political re-education classes on “issues of national security” for six months, the source said.
Wangchen, an unschooled local resident who made his living in horse-riding competitions, was detained on April 29 after reciting prayers and shouting slogans calling for the release of the Panchen Lama, who disappeared into Chinese custody as a child in 1995 after being authorized in his role by the exiled Dalai Lama, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
“During an offering ceremony and the hanging of prayer flags on the hill behind Sershul monastery, he shouted slogans calling for the release of the Panchen Lama and for the reunion of the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama in Tibet,” one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Only Wangchen recited the prayers and shouted the slogans, the source said. But three others—Lobsang, Yonten, and another person who was physically disabled—were detained as his accomplices, with the disabled man eventually set free.
Called in for questioning
Police called Acha Dolkar in for questioning on May 3, and then summoned her and other family members again four days later, telling them that no more than five relatives would be allowed in court next day, RFA’s source in India said on May 8.
Wangchen walked unsteadily when taken to court on May 7, leading some observers to believe he had been tortured in custody by police, RFA’s source said, adding, “However, no one was allowed to get close to him to look for signs of trauma.”
“We don’t know where Wangchen and his aunt were taken after they were sentenced, and his family were not allowed to provide lawyers to represent him in court,” the source said.
“The situation in the area is very tense at the moment, as it remains under a security clampdown,” he said.
Calls seeking comment from Sershul county police and the county court rang unanswered on Tuesday.
Taken into custody
Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was recognized on May 14, 1995 at the age of six by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama—the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 10th Panchen Lama.
Tibetan tradition holds that senior Buddhist monks are reincarnated in the body of a child after they die.
Three days later, the young Panchen Lama and his family were taken away by Chinese authorities, who then installed another boy as their own candidate in his place.
Speaking last week on the eve of the Panchen Lama’s 30th birthday, a Tibetan advocacy group said China should immediately free the Panchen Lama from custody and allow him to return to his monastery to assume his role as the second most well-known religious figure in Tibet.
While the religious leader’s whereabouts remain unknown and he has not been seen in public since his disappearance, “it is believed he is still alive,” Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said in a statement marking his April 25 birthday.
“As the Panchen Lama turns 30, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) calls on China to immediately free him and allow him to return to his monastery, Tashi Lhunpo, and assume his vital role as a religious leader,” the statement said, noting that enforced disappearance is defined as a crime by the United Nations.
Reported by Lobsang Chopel and Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.