Thursday, April 9, 2009

China sentences two to death over alleged role in starting fires in Lhasa protests

A court in Lhasa has sentenced “two people” to death for “starting fatal fires” in Lhasa in March last year, according to a report issued today by the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua (1). The same report stated that “two others” received death sentences each with a two year reprieve, and that another received a life sentence. The Xinhua report does not state the exact nature of the charges, nor when sentencing was passed; the report stated that the five had been tried in three separate arson cases.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) has named those sentenced as Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak (death sentence); Tenzin Phuntsok and Kangtsuk to suspended death sentence(for 2 years); and Dawa Sangpo (life imprisonment).
Today’s reported death sentences are the first that are known to have been passed in Tibet since 2002(2) and are therefore the first death sentences to have been passed on people for their alleged role in protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau last year.
Free Tibet has gathered information from inside Tibet that demonstrates that recent trials of Tibetans for their alleged role in last year’s protests have been conducted in secrecy and in the absence of even the most basic level of legal oversight and due process. Last October Free Tibet reported lengthy sentences passed on eight monks from the Tibetan town of Kyabe for alleged bombing offences. According to reliable information received by Free Tibet from a well-placed source, the monks were denied all access to legal counsel and family from the time of arrest to sentencing. The trial of the monks was conducted in camera according to the source and the nature of the charges and eventual sentencing of the monks were not made public by the court (3). These measures, and the failure of the court to inform even family members of the sentences, contravene legal safeguards incorporated into the Chinese constitution and the criminal justice system. The court only acknowledged the sentences passed on the Kyabe monks after it was contacted by the Associated Press (4).
Despite restrictions on the amount of time detainees can be held in China without charge, the legal status and whereabouts of more than 1000 Tibetans detained in the aftermath of last year’s protests remain unaccounted for by the Chinese authorities (5). The
highly respected US Congressional Executive Committee on China (CECC) last year cited official Chinese sources as reporting that, by June 21 2008, the Chinese authorities had released 3072 of 4434 persons arrested following the outbreak of protests in Tibet on March 10. China has consistently refused to account for the more than 1000 Tibetans that remained in detention (6).
According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), Tibetan monks in Xining in Qinghai province recently staged a peaceful sit-in protest in front of the Xining City High People's Court. According to TCHRD the monks held aloft a banner calling for the court to conduct fair judicial proceedings in accordance with the law (7).

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