Military camp in Lhasa, April 2008.

Military camp in Lhasa, April 2008.

The Chinese authorities have announced the first sentences of Tibetans, ranging from three years to life, since the protests and unrest began on the Tibetan plateau on March 10. Thirty sentences were handed down yesterday in connection with the riots in Lhasa on March 14, according to a Xinhua report, citing the Intermediate People’s Court of Lhasa. One monk was sentenced to life, and two others to 20 years.

One of the Tibetans sentenced to life was a monk, Pasang (Chinese: Basang), and the other was Sonam Tsering, a driver with a Lhasa real estate company, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. According to the same report, Pasang, who is from the Toelung Dechen (Chinese: Doilungdeqen), Lhasa Municipality, led 10 people – including five monks – to destroy the local government office, smash or burn down 11 shops and rob their valuables, and attack policemen on duty, it said. Two of the monks were sentenced to 20 years and the other three to 15 years. None of the sentences involved accusations of manslaughter, indicating that the most severe sentences may still be forthcoming.

A report by Human Rights Watch stated that actual trial proceedings, in which evidence from the prosecution was introduced, had been conducted covertly on undisclosed dates earlier in April, and that the Tibetans were denied access to a meaningful defense with lawyers they had chosen (‘China: Tibetan Protesters Denied Fair Trial’. April 30, In an image released by the state media of the trial, one of the prisoners is sitting on a chair, which some observers have noted could mean they were unable to stand following torture.

John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said today, “sentencing Tibetans to life this quickly just underscores the lack of due process and sets a disturbing precedent for thousands of other Tibetans involved in protest activity.”

One of 18 Chinese lawyers who signed an open letter offering their services as criminal defence lawyers to the accused in Tibet said that he didn’t know whether the Tibetans sentenced yesterday had received enough legal assistance (Washington Post, April 29). Another lawyer who signed the letter, Teng Biao, said the government had pressured them to withdraw their offer of assistance, telling them that the “Tibet issue is very sensitive”.

In more than 90 protests across the Tibetan plateau since Drepung monks first held a peaceful protest on March 10, only the events of March 14 in Lhasa escalated to serious violence against Chinese civilians, according to ICT’s information, although there may be incidents that are not known yet. At least 15 other incidents included damage to government property such as police stations, or police cars, or confrontations with police, with three of those also including some damage to Chinese civilians’ property, but not as far as we know to civilians themselves. A report by Xinhua today referred to the death of a policeman and a Tibetan described as a ‘rioter’ in Qinghai’s Dari [Tibetan: Darlag], Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, indicating armed resistance, although this could not be confirmed. In the case of confrontations with police in recent weeks, Tibetans have been virtually all unarmed, confronting fully armed police or military.

Further eyewitness reports have reached ICT of deaths of Tibetans during the crackdown in Lhasa following the rioting on March 14, which followed several days of protest from March 10. A Tibetan eyewitness told a source that in the afternoon of March 14, he saw four people carrying a Tibetan who had been shot dead. In the evening, a member of the family went to collect a child from school at around 6 pm, and the source said: “The military was shooting at the locals who went to pick up their children. One woman got shot in her leg and one man was hit in the head or neck and he died. Later his brother wanted to get his corpse from the hospital, but the hospital didn’t want to give it [to him]. Finally the brother got so desperate that he threatened to burn himself and the hospital if they didn’t give his dead brother to his family. The hospital gave him his brother’s body, but just a few hours after they came home the military came and took the dead body away.”

The same source said that after March 14, in order to take a member of a family who had died for sky burial, a traditional Tibetan ceremony, three different papers were needed from the local police, hospital and a legal office, and that the reason for the different levels of bureaucracy was in order to ensure that the bodies of Tibetans who had been shot dead were not photographed and sent outside Tibet. Similarly, according to several sources, the corpses of those who had been shot were immediately taken away from people’s homes by armed police or the military.

The source added: “Walking the streets of Lhasa today, seeing big tea houses unusually empty and many shops still closed, makes you aware of how scared people are now. Very few people stop on the street when they meet friends, because every gathering of people is suspicious. A lot of people still stay at home because they are scared they will get arrested for no reason if they go out. When you finally find someone who is not too scared to talk to you, you hear consistent, dramatic, disturbing and daunting stories that give you nightmares.”

There are serious concerns and fears among people in Lhasa for Tibetans who have been detained since March 10 and following raids on people’s homes on March 14. Conditions in detentions centers and prisons are known to be severe, and prisoners are deprived of food and water. According to numerous reports received by ICT, Tibetans in custody face severe beatings. Many Tibetans have been taken out of Lhasa in truckloads or by train to prisons or detention centers in the Chengdu or Xining area.

Names of Tibetans sentenced in Lhasa

The extract below is a translation by ICT from an official Chinese news report, giving details of 30 Tibetans sentenced at Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court ( : “Following trial according to law at Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court, verdicts have been issued on trials of the first instance finding Basang [Pasang] and a total of 30 defendants guilty of the crime of arson, the crime of looting, the crime of stirring up criminality, the crime of gathering others to attack organs of the state, the crime of obstructing public duties and the crime of theft. The defendants Basang [Pasang], Suolang Ciren [Sonam Tsering], and Ciren [Tsering] were sentenced to life imprisonment according to law; the defendants Jinmei [Jigme], Gesang Bazhu [Kalsang Bagdro], Gema Dawa [Karma Dawa], Duojue [Dorje], Mima [Migmar], Awang Quyang [Ngawang Choeyang] and Bazhu [Bagdro] were sentenced to fixed terms of 15 years and above; the defendants Yajie [Yargyal], Qupei Zhazi [Choephel Tashi], Duoji Dajie [Dorje Dargye], Awang [Ngawang], Gesang Ciren [Kalsang Tsering], Mima [Migmar], Suolang Ciren [Sonam Tsering], Luoang Sangdan [Kelsang Samten], Cidan [Tseten], Peisang Zhaxi [Palsang Tashi], Laba Ciren (Sr.) [Lhagpa Tsering Chewa (Sr.)], Luosang Zhaxi [Lobsang Tashi], Laba Ciren [Lhagpa Tsering], Taqing [Darchen], Tudan Jiacuo [Thubten Gyatso], Zhaxi Jiacuo [Tashi Gyatso], Gesang Dunzhu [Kalsang Dondrub], Danzeng Jiancai [Tenzin Gyaltsen], Gesang Nima [Kalsang Nyima] and Yixi [Yeshe] were sentenced to differing fixed terms of between three years and 14 years.