Chinese Court Issues Severe Sentences in Tibetan Self-Immolations
By EDWARD WONG, BEIJING NY Times: A court in southwest China gave severe prison sentences on Thursday to two Tibetans who court officials said were guilty of urging eight people to self-immolate, three of whom died, according to a report by Xinhua, the state news agency.
One Tibetan, Lorang Konchok, 40, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, which often means the convict will eventually get a lifetime prison sentence. His nephew Lorang Tsering, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Xinhua report said the older Tibetan was also being stripped of his “political rights” for life, while the younger would have his stripped for three years.
The sentencing took place in Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province, an area at the heart of the recent wave of self-immolations by Tibetans. Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan regions, which lie in western China but which many Tibetans say should be granted independence or true autonomy.
At least 81 died after their acts, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group based in London. Few other nations have been confronted by such a large wave of self-immolations as political protest.
Chinese officials have sentenced Tibetans before to prison sentences for what courts have said were their roles in promoting self-immolations, but Thursday’s sentences were among the harshest. There now appears to be a concentrated effort to rein in the self-immolations, which gathered pace in late 2012, by criminalizing both the act itself and helping or encouraging people to commit it.
On Dec. 3, a newspaper in a Tibetan area of Gansu Province published an editorial that said China’s
supreme court, prosecution agency and Ministry of Public Security had issued “guidelines” that said, “The act of self-immolation by Tibetans is a crime.” The guidelines said assisting or encouraging self-immolations was considered intentional homicide, and those who committed self-immolation were also criminals and punishable by law if they “have caused severe damage,” according to the newspaper.
The Xinhua report on Thursday said the two monks “incited and coerced” eight people to self-immolate; three committed the act and died last year, and the others “willfully” abandoned their plans after the police “intervened.”
The Chinese government has blamed the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetans, for encouraging the self-immolations, even though the Dalai Lama has not made any explicit statements in support of the acts. Tibetans have said in interviews that the self-immolations are genuine expressions of political anger and frustration at Chinese oppression, not the result of plots hatched by senior monks or other Tibetan leaders.
The two monks sentenced in Aba, which Tibetans called Ngaba, were detained in August 2012, according to a report in December by Xinhua. Both monks are from the Kirti Monastery, which was a site central to the earliest self-immolations.
That Xinhua report said Lorang Konchok became involved in promoting self-immolations after being contacted by a “Tibetan independence organization” tied to the Dalai Lama. Xinhua said the contact took place after February 2009, when a young monk from Kirti named Tapey set fire to himself outside the monastery. Tapey did not die, but the second Tibetan to commit the act, Phuntsog, also from Kirti, killed himself in March 2011.
After Phuntsog’s death, a court sentenced three monks to long prison sentences in the first legal punishments handed out in relation to the self-immolations. Two monks were found guilty of involvement in Phuntsog’s self-immolation and one, an uncle of Phuntsog’s, was found guilty of refusing to turn his body over to the police at the time.
The Tibetans who have self-immolated have come from a variety of backgrounds. They include men and women, young and old, clergy and laypeople. So far this year, at least three Tibetans have self-immolated, all men. The second one, Tsering, who killed himself in Aba Prefecture on Jan. 18, is survived by a wife and two children.