(TibetanReview.net, Apr 11, 2009) — China reported Apr 8 that it had sentenced five Tibetans to terms ranging from a life sentence to death without reprieve for arson leading to deaths during the Mar 14-15, 2008 Tibetan protests in Lhasa. The official Xinhua news agency Apr 8 reported that four Tibetans were sentenced to death, two of them with a two-year reprieve, and a fifth Tibetan to life imprisonment. It said more Tibetans were being tried in a fourth deadly arson case.
The report claimed that the five Tibetans were given open trials, but this could not be confirmed from any independent source. “The court also provided Tibetan interpreters for the defendants,” a spokesman for the Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People’s Court was quoted as saying, suggesting the primacy of Chinese language in judicial proceedings, as in all other official business conducts, in a region where well over 90 percent of the population is claimed to be Tibetan.
It was also not clear how long the trials lasted, although they appear to have had been short and swift. Indeed, no one outside the government appeared to know when the trials were going to be held. The report only said the five were tried in three separate arson cases and that “the sentences were made at the first instance trial Wednesday (Apr 8) afternoon.”
The court spokesman was also quoted as saying: “Their lawyers fully voiced their defenses. The litigious rights of the defendants were fully safeguarded and their customs and dignity were respected.” However, a group of 21 lawyers in China who last year offered to provide free legal service to Tibetans sought to be tried for the Mar 14-15, 2008 protests were strongly intimidated by the government, even punished with the suspension of their licences to practice their profession, with the result that none of them could make good on their offer.
And the apparent swiftness of the trials and sentences appear to show that confession had been obtained under torture.
The report said that Losang Gyaltse got the death penalty in one of the cases for setting fire to two garment shops in downtown Lhasa on Mar 14, which led to the death of a shop owner named Zuo Rencun.
In the second case, Loyar, Gangtsu, and Dawa Sangpo were sentenced to death for torching a motorcycle dealership in Deqen Township of Lhasa’s Dagze County on Mar 15. It said five people, including the shop owner Liang Zhiwei, Liang’s wife, son and two employees, died in the fire. Loyar is destined for a bullet in the back of his head while Gangtsu has got a two-year reprieve from execution. And Dawa Sangpo has been jailed for life.
In the third case, Tenzin Phuntsog was sentenced to death, but also with a two-year reprieve. He was convicted for setting fire to a garment shop which spread to a neighbouring garment shop in downtown Lhasa on Mar 14. A shop owner named Liu Guobing and his wife were injured but Liu’s daughter was reportedly burnt to death.
Regarding the two Tibetans sentenced to death without reprieve, the court spokesman was quoted as saying, “The two defendants … had committed extremely serious crimes and have to be executed to assuage the people’s anger.”
More death sentences appeared likely to follow, for the report said that another arson case, in which five civilians were killed and a shop burnt down, was still under trial.
China had earlier claimed to have tried a total of 76 Tibetans in separate trials for the protests in and around Lhasa, none of them to death. Independent reports show that several times more Tibetans had been tried not only in the Tibet Autonomous Region but across the Tibetan Plateau as well.
Apart from the total lack of fairness and openness in the judicial procedure, the trials have been severely criticized for being patently political. Guardian.co.uk Apr 9 quoted London-based Free Tibet spokesperson, Matt Whitticase, as expressing huge concern over the sentences “in the light of evidence that has continued to emerge from Tibet since last year, which clearly shows that politically-motivated cases against Tibetans are being mounted in the complete absence of even the most basic legal oversight and due process.”
As regards the question why such swift trials and sentences took so long to be held, Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama’s envoy to Europe, has told The Times (UK) Apr 9 that Beijing had been stringing out the process until after the Olympics last year in order to avoid international embarrassment.