Lobsang Kunchock

Lobsang Kunchock

A Tibetan monk named Lobsang Kunchok was given a suspended death sentence*, and his nephew Lobsang Tsering sentenced to ten years for “intentional homicide” connected to the self-immolation of eight Tibetans in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), although five of the self-immolations never occurred. The two Tibetans were caught up in a new drive by Chinese authorities to criminalize the self-immolations in Tibet. The severe sentences are the first to be imposed against individuals who have allegedly ‘incited’ or ‘coerced’ Tibetans to self-immolate.

The sentencing and elaborate propaganda efforts surrounding the trial of the two Tibetans (news of the alleged conspiracy was covered in the official press and state television) show a hard line and more systematic response by the authorities to recast the self-immolations as criminal acts and attribute blame for the self-immolations to ‘outside forces.’ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei shed light on this agenda when he said: “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.” (Cited by Associated Press, January 31).

The sentences were handed down by the Intermediate People’s Court of the Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. On January 28, Xinhua had acknowledged that the two Tibetans were not represented by their own lawyers. Despite an assertion by a judge who told the Global Times that: “authorities obtained sufficient evidence showing it [the alleged crimes] had been instructed by ‘forces from abroad’,” no evidence was presented to justify the sentencing. The court noted that while the two Tibetans were charged with the “intentional homicide” for “inciting and coercing” eight Tibetans to self-immolate, it also found that: “The other five people did not self-immolate, after willfully abandoning their plans or after police intervened.” (Xinhua, January 31, 2013).

Xinhua had reported during the trial: “Wearing a black down jacket, it was hard to tell from Lorang [Lobsang] Konchok’s appearance that this monk with Geshe, an honorable high-level academic degree for Tibetan monks, had exploited his religious position. Next to him, Lorang [Lobsang] Tsering in a black and navy winter coat looked confused.” (Xinhua, January 28, 2013).

The sentencing of the two Tibetans is expected to cause great distress in Tibet. A Tibetan in exile who is from the area and has spoken to local Tibetans told ICT: “Lobsang Kunchok and his nephew are good men and respected in their local communities, and they are likely to have responded to requests to help families who were suffering. This sentencing to death can only make the situation worse and risk further self-immolations happening in Ngaba.”

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “It is difficult to discern the intended audience for this miscarriage of justice. Tibetans who are grieving for the suffering of the families and friends of self-immolators will not see this as a correct response from government. The international community, to whom the Foreign Ministry spokesman addressed his remarks, has called repeatedly on the Chinese government to address the underlying grievances that have led to the self-immolations. The authorities are piling insult on failure and risking further unrest.”

In December 2012, Chinese state media had reported the detention of Lorang (Lobsang) Konchok, a 40-year old monk from Kirti monastery, and his 31-year old nephew Lorang (Lobsang) Tsering, and the accusation that they had played a role in inciting several self-immolations. The Xinhua report also said that the two Tibetans had passed on information to Tibetans in India about the people who had self-immolated, hinting at charges against the two for sharing information with people outside Tibet. Since the self-immolations began, and from March 2008 when protests swept across Tibet, the Chinese government has engaged in a comprehensive cover-up of the torture, disappearances and killings that have taken place across Tibet and an attempt to prevent news reaching the outside world.

The same month, the Gannan Daily, reported on sweeping measures issued by China’s judicial and law enforcement authorities. According to the new measures, “criminals” who “actively participate in inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations, will be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law of the PRC.” The new measures also instruct that self-immolators should be treated depending on the “extent of their malign intentions”. (Gannan Daily, Those Who Incite Self-Immolations Must be Severely Punished Under the Law – December 3, 2012. Translation into English by Dui Hua.).

* Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison, unless the prisoner is alleged to have committed a crime in the first two years of his sentence.