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China Sentences Tibetans in Self-Immolation Cases

By JOSH CHIN And SAURABH CHATURVEDI, BEIJING (WSJ): A total of eight Tibetans were found guilty of inciting others to set fire to themselves to protest Chinese rule by two separate courts on Thursday, according to state media.

The sentences come as Chinese authorities pursue a hard-line approach to quell unrest in the country’s Tibetan regions.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said a court in Aba, a heavily Tibetan prefecture in western Sichuan province, sentenced 40-year-old Lorang Konchok to death with a two-year reprieve—a sentence commonly commuted to life imprisonment—saying he used his status to seek to convince eight people, including monks, to light themselves on fire.

His nephew, 31-year-old Lorang Tsering, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to Xinhua.

In a separate report, Xinhua said a county court in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Gansu province, sentenced six ethnic Tibetans to between three and 12 years in prison for their roles in a local villager’s self-immolation in October.

The Aba court also said Lorang Konchok, a religious scholar affiliated with the Kirti Monastery in Aba, sent information about the self-immolations to an overseas Tibetan independence organization to be used by foreign media “as a basis for creating secessionist propaganda,” the news agency said.

The Tibetan government in exile rejected the notion that those who set themselves on fire had acted after pressure. “Tibetans are choosing to die [rather] than to live under the Chinese rule,” Lobsang Sangay, political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, told The Wall Street Journal by phone

Both Lorang Konchok nor Lorang Tsering were believed to be in custody and neither could be reached.

A total of 86 Tibetans, mostly monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in protest against Beijing’s policies since the start of 2012, according to a Jan. 25 statement issued by the Tibetan government-in-exile. Of the 99 self-immolations since 2009, 83 have been confirmed to be fatal, Tenzin Lekshay, a press officer for the Tibetan exile administration told the Journal last week, adding that the rest were untraceable.

Mr. Sangay, who was in New Delhi to attend a four-day mass gathering over the Tibetan self-immolations, said that the Chinese authorities had failed to realize that their “repression of the aspirations of Tibetans” was what led to protests. “The solution really lies in a peaceful and transparent dialogue process,” he said.

Chinese authorities have struggled to stem the unprecedented wave of self-immolations in Tibetan areas despite tough measures such as prosecution of those suspected of aiding or disseminating information about the protests.

The sentences handed down Thursday are the “most severe imposed on people accused of inciting self-immolation” said Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

Of the eight people Lorang Konchock is accused of seeking to “incite and coerce” into self-immolation, three set themselves on fire and died last year, while the remaining five abandoned their plans after police intervened, Xinhua said, citing the court.

Both Lorang Konchock and his nephew pleaded guilty and repented, according to the news agency, which led the court to lighten their punishment.

Mr. Bequelin questioned the fairness of the trial, saying the guilty pleas raised the specter confessions were coerced.

“This is all part of a pattern of escalation against the communities where the people who have committed self-immolations come from,” he said. “At the same time, the government hasn’t even started to address the grievances that underlie the self-immolations.”

The Aba Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court declined to comment, referring questions to the prefecture’s propaganda office. Officials there didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

China’s Foreign Ministry has consistently rejected links between the self-immolations and its policies in Tibet, instead blaming the protests on the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and former political head of the government-in-exile, and overseas groups it says are bent on splitting China.

The Dalai Lama, who maintains he wants greater autonomy for Tibetans inside China, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the self-immolations, saying in an interview with the Journal in March that he would grant Chinese officials access to his files if they wanted to conduct an investigation into the issue.

Authorities in another Tibetan area that has seen multiple self-immolations, Huangnan prefecture in northwestern China’s Qinghai Province, have been waging a campaign to end the practice since the end of December, offering as much as 50,000 yuan (about $8,000) for information that helps prevent a self-immolation or leads to the capture of those suspected of inciting others to set themselves on fire, according to local Communist Party media reports. The Huangnan government has also ordered cancellation of social welfare benefits for families of self-immolators and confiscating satellite dishes and receivers that could be used to broadcast information about the protests.

Published Date: Thursday, January 31st, 2013 | 08:37 AM

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