Three Kirti monks imprisoned for assisting self-immolation
[2 September] The Chinese authorities have handed heavy prison sentences to three Kirti monks accused of assisting the self-immolation of fellow monk Phuntsok in March. The three monks, one of whom is Phuntsok's uncle, were charged with "intentional homicide" and received prison terms ranging from 10 to 13 years. Reports indicate that due legal process was not followed in any of the cases.
The three cases were heard in Barkham County People’s Court in Ngaba, Sichuan province at the end of August. On 29 August, Lobsang Tsundue was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. The following day, Tsering Tamding was sentenced to 13 years and Lobsang Tenzin was given a 10-year term.
All three sentences were reported by the Chinese state media, with Xinhua saying that Tsering Tamding and Lobsang Tenzin "plotted, instigated and assisted in the self-immolation of fellow monk Rigzin Phuntsog [Phuntsok], causing his death." The article also stated that Lobsang Tsundue "was given the sentence because he hid the injured monk and prevented emergency treatment, causing delayed treatment and the subsequent death for his disciple and nephew."
International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) reported that sources from Ngaba have indicated that due legal process was not followed in these cases, with the monks unable to choose their own lawyers and the whereabouts of all three withheld from their families upon detention.
Lobsang Tsundue (referred to in Chinese media as Drongdru) is Phuntsok’s uncle and one of his tutors. He is 46 years old and from Me’uruma township in Ngaba county. He was arrested on 12 April and held incommunicado until his court case. He had previously been detained on 30 March but was released after five days.
Tsering Tamding (Ch: Tsering Tenzin, and also reported as Losang Tenzin), is 22 years old and from Chuklegabma, Cha township, Ngaba county and has been a Kirti monk since a teenager and belongs to the Tantric college. He was arrested on 23 March at Kirti monastery. His family had heard nothing of his whereabouts until they were informed of the court proceedings and were given no opportunity to hire a lawyer to defend him.
Lobsang Tenzin (alias Nagten, Ch: Tenchum), 21, is from Naktsangma, Cha township, Ngaba county and belongs to the philosophy college of Kirti monastery. He was arrested at the end of March. His whereabouts were also unknown until the court case in August and he was not allowed to have his own legal counsel.
The charges of "intentional homicide" follow on from official state media reports at the time of the incident which stated that monks "forcibly took [Phuntsok] out of the hospital... and hid him inside the monastery". However, according to International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), eyewitness accounts state that following his immolation, Phuntsok was beaten by security personnel causing monks and lay people to intervene and take Phuntsok back to Kirti monastery. (Those injured during political protests are often denied medical treatment at government hospitals.) However, as Phuntsok's condition was so dire he was later taken to hospital where he eventually died.
At least four other Kirti monks have been imprisoned since the crisis began in mid-March. In May, Lobsang Dargye was sentenced to four years for refusing patriotic re-education and Konchog Tsultrim to three years (reason unknown). In July, Lobsang Khedup and Lobsang Gyatso were each given three year sentences. Both were part of a group attempting to stop the forced removal of 300 monks from Kirti monastery, though the exact charges are not known.
Since Phuntsok's self-immolation, Chinese military troops and other security personnel have been stationed at Kirti Monastery in the Ngaba area which has remained under virtual lockdown. Many Kirti monks have been arbitrarily detained, and those who have been released have been barred from returning to the monastery.
These cases are indicative of China's ongoing crackdown in Tibet, which has seen the arbitrary arrests of many Tibetans who have protested against Chinese rule or criticised Chinese polices (such as the arrest of Jigme Guri on 20 August). The harsh sentences currently being meted out are an apparent attempt by the Chinese government to dissuade further criticism and protests. Ironically, it is this oppressive state of affairs that Tsewang Norbu was protesting against.
Further reading: ICT I Phayul I Reuters I BBC I Xinhua
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