China-Tibet 1stLd-Writethru 04-29

China sentences 17 for alleged involvement in Tibet riots

Eds: UPDATES with details on those convicted, new figures from Tibetan government-in-exile on deaths in Lhasa riots.

AP Photo KAT106


Associated Press Writer


BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese court sentenced 17 people, including six monks, to jail Tuesday for their alleged roles in deadly riots in the Tibetan capital, in the first trial concerning last month’s unrest, state media reported.

The sentences were handed down the same day that the Tibetan government-in-exile announced that it believes 203 Tibetans were killed in Beijing’s crackdown after the riots. The number is nearly 10 times China’s official toll. It could not be independently confirmed.

The Intermediate People’s Court of Lhasa announced the sentences — which ranged from three years to life in prison — at an open session, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Two men, including a Buddhist monk identified as Basang, received life sentences, Xinhua said. Basang was accused of leading 10 people, including five other monks, to destroy local government offices, burn down shops and attack policemen, Xinhua said. Of the five monks, two were sentenced to 20 years, and the other three to 15 years in jail.

The other man who received a life sentence was identified as Soi’nam Norbu, a driver for a Lhasa real estate company who was accused of joining the mobs that burnt vehicles, smashed police stations and assaulted firemen during the riot, Xinhua said. He was convicted of arson and disrupting public services, the court said.

No details were given on the 10 other people sentenced.

China’s state broadcaster reported that 200 people attended the trial.

The massive anti-government protests that turned violent in Lhasa on March 14 were the most significant challenge to Chinese rule in the Himalayan region in nearly two decades.


China has said that 22 people died in the riots and that they were mostly Han Chinese, the country’s predominant ethnicity. Tibetan exile groups have maintained that many times that number were killed in both the initial unrest and the ensuing crackdown, mostly Tibetans.

In addition to the 203 killed, more than 1,000 people were wounded and more than 5,715 were still in detention, said Tibetan government spokesman Thubten Samphal. The figures were taken from a combination of the government’s own sources, Tibetan exile groups and official Chinese media, he said.

The announcement from the exiled Tibetan government in Dharmsala, India, could not be verified, but the government insisted that if the numbers were flawed, it’s because they were too low.

It is extremely difficult to get independent confirmation since Tibet and the surrounding provinces where protests broke out have been closed to foreigners since the unrest.

China’s response to the riots has drawn attention to the government’s human rights record and other policies, as the communist country prepares to host the Olympic Games in August. Rights groups and pro-Tibetan supporters have protested the Olympic torch relay at several of its stops around the world, causing massive disruptions in some cities.

The sentences came the same day authorities announced the reopening of the first of the Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa — the Sera Monastery — closed after last month’s riots, Xinhua reported.

"Monks have been taught legal knowledge in recent days and the monastery has resumed normal religious activities," Tenzin Namgyal, deputy director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying.

Other monasteries that were closed will be reopened soon, he said.


Chinese authorities have increased patriotic education classes that require monks to make ritual denunciations of the exiled Dalai Lama, accept the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, and pledge allegiance to Beijing.

The protests, initially led by Buddhist monks, started peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. They became violent four days later as Tibetans attacked cars and shops runs by Han Chinese, China’s majority ethnic group.

Police and armed troops surrounded Lhasa’s three main monasteries — Sera, Drepung and Ganden — along with the sacred Jokhang temple during the demonstrations. They were then closed off as authorities investigated which monks had been involved in the unrest.

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