A Chinese court on Thursday (Jan. 31, 2013) sentenced a Tibetan man to death with a two-year reprieve, convicting him of “inciting” eight people to carry out self-immolation protests last year.
In the first major case involving self-immolation protests that have spread across Tibetan areas in recent months, Lorang Konchok (40), a monk in the Kirti monastery in the northwestern Sichuan province, was charged with “intentional homicide” for “inciting and coercing” eight people to set themselves on fire.
Three of them died, according to the verdict handed down by the Intermediate People’s Court of the Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Aba, a predominantly Tibetan area of the province, which has witnessed many of the at least 99 self-immolations seen in China since 2009.
While Konchok was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve — which is likely to be commuted to a life sentence — his 31-year-old nephew, Lorang Tsering, was handed down a 10-year jail term for assisting him, the court said.
The court said Konchok had “maintained long-term and close contact” with a monk named Santan based in Dharamsala, who, the court alleged, was part of a “Kirti monastery media liaison team” that helped incite protests and then spread information.
The trial, which opened on Monday, has been framed by the Chinese government and State media as evidence of an overseas “separatist plot” to undermine its rule. The verdict has been seen an indication that the government would hand down stiff sentences to anyone found spreading information about the continuing protests.
China’s claims of an overseas plot have, however, been strongly denied by the exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala, which has blamed restrictive Chinese policies for the spreading protests.
Self-immolations have been mainly reported in Tibetan areas in the Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, with monks, nuns, farmers, and even young students setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese policies in recent months. Many of them called for the return of the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to Tibet.
The latest protest —by some accounts the 99th self-immolation — was reported only on Tuesday, when Kunchok Kyab (26) set himself on fire near the Bora monastery in Gansu, according to overseas groups. While the protests began in Kirti monastery in 2009, they subsequently spread to even remote Tibetan counties in nearby Qinghai and Gansu and beyond monastery walls, where even ordinary Tibetans — from herders to students — have set themselves on fire.
A report of Monday’s court proceedings claimed that Santan, the monk in Dharamsala, had “asked Lorang Konchok to goad more people to self-immolate and collect and send information about self-immolation abroad”. It said Konchok “made 95 calls to various foreign numbers,
including Indian ones using a mobile phone from January to August in 2012”, adding that he had called his foreign contacts “after each of the five self-immolation cases happened in Aba”. The court claimed that three monks had died “under the influence of Lorang Konchok”.
They included two monks — Lorang Tsedrup (23) and Tsenam (19) — and a 19-year-old herdsman from Aba.
China has blamed the Dalai Lama for encouraging the protests. The Tibetan spiritual leader has strongly rejected the accusations, and has said he would welcome a fact-finding mission to investigate the cases. He said the Chinese government “must carry thorough research… and not pretend that nothing is wrong”, in an interview with The Hindu last year.
This week, the Chinese government appointed a new chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), who will head the regional government but ranks second to the Communist Party chief. The new chairman, Losang Jamcan, said he would take “a firm political stand and [act] consistently to resolutely battle against the 14th Dalai Lama clique and unswervingly safeguarding the unification of the motherland and national unity”.
Fears of New Crackdown on Monks
Missing Tibetan monks are taken for ‘political reeducation.’
Fourteen senior Tibetan monks have been detained and sent for “political reeducation” to a monastery in Tibet’s Nagchu prefecture, sources said, amid fears of a new crackdown on Tibetan religious leaders.
They were summoned by Chinese officials for a “meeting” on Jan. 14, and were taken into custody after leaving their monasteries, with their whereabouts at first unknown.
The monks—who come from the Sera, Drepung, and Ganden monasteries and the Jokhang Temple in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) capital Lhasa—are being held in Nagchu’s Penkar monastery, a Swiss-based Tibetan named Sonam told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Wednesday, citing sources with contacts in Tibet.
“The Chinese authorities called the monk leaders of the monasteries to attend a special meeting, and when they left their respective monasteries they were detained and taken away,” he said, adding, “The monks of the three monasteries and the Tsuklakhang [Jokhang] are very worried.”
“They fear this may be a repetition of the crackdown on the monk leaders [of the Lhasa-area protests] of 2008, and they are concerned about the possible intentions of the Chinese authorities.”
Daily religious activities in the Lhasa-area monasteries have been “adversely affected,” Sonam said.
Sonam identified the detained monks as Khenpo [Abbot] Jampel Lhaksam, chant leader Ngawang, and teachers Ngawang Donden, Ngawang Palsang, and Ngawang Samten from Drepung.
Also detained were Sera monastery’s disciplinarian Migmar, chant leader Samten, and teachers Ngawang Lodro and Tashi Gyaltsen, together with Ganden monastery’s Kalden and Lobsang Ngodrub, and the Jokhang Temple’s Tseten Dorje, Lundrub Yarphel, and Ngawang Lophel, Sonam said.
In a report last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) noted increasing “official interference in monastic life and religious practice in Tibetan areas” during 2011.
“Patriotic education campaigns … were carried out with renewed intensity and frequency at monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau,” the report said.
Focuses of the campaigns included education in Chinese law, denunciations of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and the study of materials praising the leadership of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, USCIRF said.
News of the detained monks’ whereabouts came as Beijing appointed a new governor for Tibet who experts say is a hard-liner who will have little inclination or influence to moderate Beijing’s tough policies in the restive region.
Ethnic Tibetan Losang Gyaltsen, 55, was elected at the end of the annual meeting of the regional legislature of the TAR and replaces outgoing governor Padma Choling.
The largely figurehead post is seen as subordinate to the more powerful regional secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, a position traditionally held by Han Chinese.
Chinese court convicts two Tibetans for ‘encouraging self-immolation’
Court hands down harsh sentences to Lorang Koncho and Lorang Tsering for ‘encouraging eight people to self-immolate’
Two Tibetan men in western China have received harsh sentences for encouraging other Tibetans to self-immolate, becoming the first people to be charged with “intentional homicide” in connection with the increasingly common form of protest against Chinese rule.
A court in Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture handed 40-year-old Lorang Konchok a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, a sentence which is frequently commuted to life imprisonment, China’s official newswire Xinhua reported. His 31-year-old nephew, Lorang Tsering, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Chinese authorities have responded to a spike in self-immolations since the autumn by bolstering security in volatile Tibetan regions. They have only recently begun to treat abetting self-immolation as a criminal offence.
Lorang Konchok, a monk in Kirti monastery, was “stripped of his political rights for life”, and his nephew was “stripped of his political rights for three years”, Xinhua said without providing further details. Kirti has been associated with almost one in five Tibetan self-immolations since early 2009.
Over the past two years, at least 99 people from Tibetan areas of China have set themselves on fire, and most have died from their injuries. The wave of self-immolations shows no signs of slowing down. At least 80 have occurred in the past year, and at least three within the past three weeks.
Self-immolators represent a broad swath of the Tibetan demographic – while most have been monks and nuns, others were artists, farmers and high school students. Many shouted slogans calling for Tibetan independence and the return of the Dalai Lama, before setting themselves ablaze.
Xinhua said that Lorang and his nephew encouraged eight people to self-immolate, three of whom burned themselves to death last year. The other five were stopped by police or abandoned their plans.
It added that Lorang provided information to a member of a “Kirti monastery media liaison team” named Samtan. “The information was used by some overseas media as a basis for creating secessionist propaganda,” it said.
More sentences could be forthcoming. Police in Tongren county of Qinghai province arrested a 27-year-old man last Thursday for encouraging a monk to set himself on fire, and police in neighbouring Gansu province apprehended seven people earlier this month for similar reasons.
Tibet Self-Immolation Convictions: China Finds 8 Guilty In Public Prosecution
BEIJING — Chinese courts convicted eight Tibetans on Thursday over accusations they incited others to self-immolate, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The cases are the first known public prosecution of self-immolations and a further sign that Beijing is responding to the increasing number of fiery protests by criminalizing both the protesters and their friends and sympathizers. The convictions also appear aimed at shoring up Beijing’s claims that such acts are instigated by outsiders with ulterior motives, rather than genuine protests.
Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009, usually after calling for religious freedom and the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
A court in Aba prefecture in the southwestern province of Sichuan sentenced Lorang Konchok, 40, to death with a two-year reprieve and gave his nephew Lorang Tsering, 31, a 10-year prison sentence for their roles in encouraging eight people to self-immolate last year, three of whom died from their burns, Xinhua said.
Both were charged with murder.
Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison. Calls to the court rang unanswered Thursday.
In a separate report, Xinhua said a county court in Gannan prefecture in Gansu province sentenced six ethnic Tibetans to between three and 12 years in prison for their roles in the self-immolation of a local resident in October.
Xinhua gave no other details about the case.
Authorities initially responded to the self-immolations by flooding Tibetan areas with security forces to seal them off and prevent information from getting out. With those efforts doing little to stop or slow the protests, Beijing now appears to be seeking to weaken sympathy for them by portraying them as misguided and criminal.
At a regular daily briefing Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Lorangs “pushed innocent people onto the road of self-immolations and the road of no return” to further what the government says is the Dalai Lama’s goal to split Tibet from China.
“We hope through the sentencing of these cases, the international community will be able to clearly see the evil and malicious methods used by the Dalai clique in the self-immolations and condemn their crimes,” Hong said.
Xinhua said Lorang Konchok met with one self-immolator on the day before he set himself on fire. It said he recorded the man’s personal information, took his photos and promised to spread word of his self-immolation overseas while conveying his last words to his family.
Xinhua said five other people goaded by the pair to self-immolate did not do so, either because they changed their minds or because police intervened.
Earlier this month, Xinhua reported that police in Qinghai province arrested a Tibetan monk who attempted to self-immolate last November and another Tibetan man who allegedly encouraged him. The men were arrested on charges of jeopardizing public safety and murder.