This report was updated on February 7, 2013

  • Six Tibetans in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture received sentences ranging from three to 12 years for attempting to protect a Tibetan who set fire to himself.
  • A Chinese official has announced that similar cases are pending in a new drive to criminalize self-immolations and Tibetans who can be connected to them.
  • The six sentences follow two sentences on similar charges in Ngaba, including a suspended death sentence given to a monk from Kirti monastery. Kirti Rinpoche, the abbot of Kirti monastery in exile, has reacted with “fears for their lives.”

On January 31, 2013, six Tibetans were sentenced by the Sangchu (Ch: Xiahe) County People’s Court in Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province, to prison terms ranging from 3 to 12 years following the self-immolation and death of Dorje Rinchen on October 23, 2012. Vivid images had emerged from Tibet of people seeking to protect Dorje Rinchen from being dragged away by armed troops following his self-immolation, and the six Tibetans sentenced may have been among the crowd seeking to protect him (ICT report, New images from Tibet depict self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen in Labrang today and aftermath). State security personnel have been documented beating Tibetans during self-immolation protests (see ICT report April 17, 2012), as well as shooting Tibetans who self-immolate (ICT report, Monk in Tibet sets himself on fire; shot by police during protest – February 27, 2009), before putting out the flames.

Four of the six Tibetans who received prison terms on January 31 in connection with Dorje Rinchen’s self-immolation were charged with ‘intentional homicide’ as follows: Pema Damdrub (male, sentenced to 12 years); Kalsang Gyatso (male, sentenced to 11 years); Pema Tso (female, sentenced to eight years); and Lhamo Damchoe (male, sentenced to seven years). Two of the group, Dorje Kyab, who was sentenced to four years, and Yangmo Kyi, sentenced to three years, were sentenced on charges of “provoking troubles”.

The six Tibetans sentenced are likely to have been included among detentions announced by a senior Chinese official in the state media on January 23. Wei Jianrong, Gannan Prefecture Committee Secretary, reportedly said that: “Since last October, Gannan has successfully dealt with 21 self-immolation incidents […]18 cases have been cracked, five cases have been referred to the courts for trial, and 16 people have been arrested for being involved in the organization and planning of self-immolation incidents.” (“Gansu Gannan Prefecture Officials: We’ve Cracked 18 Self-Immolation Cases,” in Chinese, translated into English by ICT below).

On January 28, 2013, a Tibetan monk named Lobsang Kunchok was given a suspended death sentence (likely to be commuted to life), and his nephew Lobsang Tsering was sentenced to 10 years for “intentional homicide” connected to the self-immolation of Tibetans in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) (ICT report, Distress at death sentence for Tibetan accused of ‘inciting ‘self-immolation’).

Kirti Rinpoche, head of the monastery in exile in Dharamsala, India, said today that in all eight cases of Tibetans sentenced China has “never produced any concrete evidence” and instead detained and framed charges against relatives and friends of self-immolators to “create” evidence (Phayul, China is playing with innocent Tibetan lives: Kirti Rinpoche).

According to Tibetan sources in exile, the six Tibetans who received prison terms on January 31 in connection with Dorje Rinchen’s self-immolation were: Pema Dhondup (male, sentenced to 12 years); Kalsang Gyatso (male, sentenced to 11 years); Pema Tso (female, sentenced to eight years); Lhamo Dhondup (male, sentenced to seven years); Digkar Gyal (male, sentenced to four years); and Yangmo Kyi (female, sentenced to three years).

Despite the intimidating actions of armed troops at the scene of Dorje Rinchen’s self-immolation, Tibetans succeeded in ensuring his body was returned to his village, Sayi, for traditional prayers and rituals. In Tibetan culture, when a person dies, the body is meant to be left undisturbed while special prayers and ceremonies are held in order to ensure a beneficial rebirth. This is one of the reasons why, in a number of cases, Tibetans at the scene of a self-immolation have risked their lives to protect and take the deceased to a place of safety – either a monastery or home – where traditional rituals can be carried out.

The charges of “intentional homicide” against the Tibetans in both these cases follow new guidelines issued by China’s judicial and law enforcement authorities for the aggressive prosecution of cases involving self-immolation protests. Included in an editorial in the official Chinese media commenting on the new measures is the stipulation that: “[a]nyone who obstructs public security officers, medical personnel, or others from rescue efforts shall be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with the Criminal Law.” (Those Who Incite Self-Immolations Must be Severely Punished Under the Law’, Gannan Daily, December 3, 2012. Translation into English by Dui Hua.).

Speaking to press today in India, the head of Kirti monastery in exile, Kirti Rinpoche, said that all eight convictions were “done in the dark without following the due process of law.” Specifically addressing allegations in the January 23 piece of “direct instigation of the overseas Dalai Clique,” Kirti Rinpoche said: “Lobsang Kunchok and Lobsang Tsering have been charged of having contacts with the Dharamsala-based Kirti Monastery’s media group, but I can ascertain that both of them have never contacted us. They have a relative in exile but he is not a member of the media group. We have only two members in the group, which according to China has 11 members, and none of the two have ever been in contact with Lobsang Kunchok and Lobsang Tsering.”

The ‘Kirti Monastery media group’ seems to reference to two specific Tibetan monks at Kirti monastery in exile who respond to requests for information about self-immolations by monks or former monks from Kirti monastery in Ngaba.

Kirti Rinpoche also challenged reports carried in the Chinese news agency Xinhua that relatives of Lobsang Kunchok and Lobsang Tsering were present in open proceedings before the court with more than 100 people in attendance at the time of their sentencing. Kirti Rinpoche maintained that only officials were present and added, “It is clear that they have been charged on forced confessions. I fear for their lives.”

Gansu Gannan Prefecture Officials: We’ve Cracked 18 Self-Immolation Cases

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Translation into English by ICT follows below:

Lanzhou, January 23rd

On the 23rd Gannan Prefecture Committee Secretary Wei Jianrong said that since last October Gannan has successfully dealt with 21 self-immolation incidents, and a number of people involved in illegal activities have turned themselves in. Currently, 18 of the cases have been cracked.

That very day, the 12th Gansu Province People’s Congress held a meeting. In the afternoon the Gannan Prefecture delegation deliberated over the government work report, and Wei Jianrong disclosed the news.

Wei Jianrong described 2012 as an extremely unusual and extremely difficult year for Gannan Prefecture, although the first 9 months were relatively smooth. After October of that year, under the direct instigation of the overseas Dalai Clique, Gannan was the site of 21 self-immolation incidents, which not only disrupted the life and order of the local populace, but also disturbed the overall stability of Gansu province.

“21 cases have occurred, 18 cases have been cracked, 5 cases have been referred to the courts for trial, and 16 people have been arrested for being involved in the organization and planning of self-immolation incidents.” Wei Jianrong said that the local government is successfully handling these cases, without hurting the feelings of the majority of local people. Because of the positive influence of a number of senior religious figures, there have been no self-immolations of monks, no student unrest, and no mass incidents.

Nevertheless, said Wei Jianrong, despite being under such pressure Gannan has made considerable progress in various undertakings, including double-digit growth and economic development, and maintaining ethnic unity.

Last year, Gannan Prefecture successfully held the Shambhala Arts Festival and the King Gesar horserace competition. Additionally, the Labrang Monastery Dharma Conference was held, in addition to more than 300 other Buddhist activities. Wei Jianrong said that these activities vigorously safeguarded the healthy and prosperous development of religion, to both meet the needs of religious believers, and also to vigorously safeguard the healthy development of religious work.