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Background information
[September 2009] In February 2008, a White Paper entitled Chinas Efforts and Achievements in Promoting the Rule of Law was issued by Chinas Information Office of the State Council, which lauded the perceived improvements in implementing legal rights for citizens. Just a month later the world saw the Chinese leadership make a mockery of their self-proclaimed progress with a brutal crackdown against Tibetans calling for genuine rights and justice. | For a pdf or hardcopy of our briefing supplement Denied Justice: China and the rule of law in Tibet please email This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 020 7272 1414 |

Over one year on, many of the 6,000 thousand plus Tibetans who were arrested for taking part in the 2008 demonstrations remain in arbitrary detention; they have no contact with their families, have no idea of what charges they will face, have no access to impartial legal advice or medical care. Others have been tried behind closed-doors; without independent representation; the Chinese authorities flagrantly flouting internationally recognised due legal processes and standards. Chinas courts heavily rely on so-called confessions, even though there is evidence these are systematically obtained through torture and coercion.
In November 2008, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed great concerns on the failure of the State Party to conduct independent and impartial investigations into allegations that some of those detained or arrested had been subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and the consistent allegations they did not have prompt access to an independent doctor, nor to an independent lawyer, that lawyers offering to represent them were warned and otherwise deterred from providing that legal assistance.

Three decades on from Deng Xiaopings declaration of legal reforms to put in place a rule of law across China and its occupied territories, the Chinese government continues to fail to adhere to international legal standards.

Instead, contrary to Deng Xiaopings declaration, the authorities have recently stepped up persecution of Chinese human rights lawyers, who have been blocked from taking on politically-sensitive cases, had their licences revoked and have even been detained and tortured. This offensive against legal rights has been emphasised by recent cases involving Tibetans, where draconian sentences have been meted out, including the death sentence to five young Tibetans. Effectively this shows complete disdain for implementing legal reform and an implacable resistance to anything approaching fair trials. Thousands of Tibetans still in detention now face politically-motivated trials without any hope of a fair hearing.

Tibetans need international support if real steps are to be taken towards a fair judicial system in China and Tibet. The British government works with the Chinese government to help establish internationally recognised due legal processes and rule of law in China. We, as taxpayers, tacitly support these programmes. However, we must now call into question the effectiveness of such initiatives and urge the government to ensure the Chinese government does not simply use them as window dressing, but shows real commitment to implementing the basic rights of defendants to have fair and open trials and access to independent legal advice and representation.

Please use the information on our action and background briefing pages to lobby your MP, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.
Ask for greater transparency and accountability for the British governments legal programmes in China; request details of areas worked in and outcomes; question the Chinese governments commitment to bringing about legal reforms and what steps the British government is taking to ensure adherance to international legal standards for rule of law; suggest constructive legal programmes and surveys are carried out in Tibetan areas with a published report on findings.

Trials behind closed doors see death sentences meted out to Tibetans

On 8 April 2009, Lhasa Municipal Intermediate Peoples Court tried and sentenced five Tibetans behind closed doors in three separate cases related to arson attacks in March 2008 in Lhasa. Two of the five Tibetans were given death sentences - Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak. Another two were given suspended death sentences with two year reprieves - Tenzin Phuntsok and Kangtsuk. Meanwhile a fifth Tibetan was given a life sentence - Dawa Sangpo.

Two weeks later it was reported in the Chinese press that three girls had also been tried for further alleged arson attacks during the March 2008 demonstrations in Lhasa. One girl, Penkyi (20) from Sakya County received a suspended death sentence with a two-year reprieve; life imprisonment was meted out to Penkyi (23) from Nyemo County; and Chime Lhamo (20) from Shigatse Namling County was sentenced to a ten-year jail term.

All these sentences, the trial procedures and treatment prior to the hearings are a matter of grave concern and, if China sincerely wants to be respected as a major world power, world governments must surely insist that it adheres to international standards of human and civil rights, including the right to a fair and open trial.

The verdicts call into question the Chinese governments assurances to the United Nations Human Rights Council citing Chinas tremendous achievements in the promotion and protection of human rights during the UNs periodic review of Chinas human rights record earlier this year. The head of the Chinese delegation to the UN, Mr Li Baodong, avowed that since the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, a fundamental social and political system for the promotion and protection of human rights has been established.

The sentences also cast doubt on the voracity of Chinas first national human rights action plan which states every precaution shall be taken in meting out a death sentence and judicial procedures for death sentences will be stringently implemented.
When asked about the death sentences, the Dalai Lama expressed distrust in the Chinese courts, saying that though criminals should be punished, all these sentences are politically motivated, so we have great reservations. The Peoples Republic of China as a whole is without rule of law, no independent judiciary. Everything is controlled by the party.

The Tibetan government in exile also spoke of its dismay at the sentences, especially in the light of the Chinese governments recent statements to the UN. The Minister for International Relations, Mrs Kesang Takla, said, we strongly condemn the harsh sentences arbitrarily meted out to the three girls without truely conducting an open and fair trial We are deeply concerned that despite Chinas pledges, in addition to four Tibetans who were given death sentences on 8 April, another Tibetan has been given death penalty.

A recent Human Rights Watch analysis of official Chinese accounts regarding the arrests and trials of Tibetan protesters from March 2008 says that by the Chinese governments own count, there have been thousands of arbitrary arrests, and more than 100 trials pushed through the judicial system. The report concludes that the judicial system is so highly politicised as to preclude any possibility of protesters being judged fairly.

It is essential that the UK Government, through the UK/China Human Rights dialogue, press for the reprieve of these individuals who are the victims of a judicial system run by the Communist Party without any basic elements of the Rule of Law. It is also essential that the UK Government press China to allow the Red Cross access to the detainees and for the media to have free access in Tibet.

Chinas legal procedures on death sentence

Under Chinese law those receiving a death sentence have 10 days in which to appeal against the sentence. If the respective verdicts are upheld (which is the most likely scenario), the cases then move on to the Supreme Peoples Court for final approval. This review process takes in judicial procedure and does not re-examine evidence. The review procedure should be completed within seven days. There is no set timescale however, as there is a lengthy backlog of cases under administration. Once the death sentence is approved, the execution is carried out very quickly (within seven days). The Supreme Peoples Court does, however, have the power to reject a death sentence, this results in a retrial.

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