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China: Stop Sentencing Tibetans for “Inciting” Immolations

Harsh Penalties for Tibetans Charged In Connection With Deaths


(New York) – Chinese judicial authorities should immediately release two Tibetans who were found guilty in legal proceedings that relied solely on confessions they gave during five months in detention, Human Rights Watch said today.  Human Rights Watch has documented endemic use of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and coercion of Tibetans in detention.

On January 31, 2013, the Intermediate People’s Court of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture sentenced Lorang Konchok to death with two years’ reprieve and his nephew, Lorang Tsering, to 10 years in prison on charges of “intentional homicide” in connection with the self-immolation protests of other Tibetans.

“These prosecutions are utterly without credibility,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The Chinese government seems to think it can stop self-immolation by punishing anyone who talks about it.  But in pursuing these ‘incitement’ cases, the government compounds the tragedy of these suicide protests.”

According to a Xinhua report in December 2012, Lorang Konchok, 41, a monk at the Kirti Monastery, and his nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, a former monk, had been in detention since August 2012. That same account, the first to confirm their detention, also reported that Lorang Konchok had confessed. At the trial, Lorang Konchok was accused of being the primary actor receiving instructions from organizations associated with the Dalai Lama in India, and Lorang Tsering was accused of being his accomplice. Between the publication of the Xinhua article and the beginning of their trial on January 26, 2013, there was little additional information about their case, and it remains unclear whether they had access to lawyers during their detention.

According to Chinese state media reports of the trial, both men confessed to trying to “goad” or “incite” eight people to self-immolate since 2010, three of whom died, on instructions from “the Dalai Lama clique.” Those confessions were made public in December, after the men had been in detention for four months. According to state media, Lorang Konchok and Lorang Tsering did not present defenses and the lawyers assigned to them asked the court for leniency on the basis of their cooperation.

Since mid-2011, the Chinese government has detained and prosecuted at least a dozen people who have allegedly been associated with immolations. These include: 

  • On January 31, 2013, six Tibetans were sentenced by a Gansu court for their alleged involvement in the October 2012 self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen. Four of the six were given sentences ranging from seven to twelve years on charges of “intentional homicide,” based on claims they had prevented police from reaching Rinchen. The other two were given three- and four-year sentences for blocking traffic after the immolation. Chinese authorities said on January 24, 2013, that at least 10 other people in Gansu have been charged with “planning” or “organizing” self-immolations, without giving further details;
  • On January 25, 2013, state media reported that Drolma Kyab, a “prospective self-immolator,” and his “suspected inciter,” known as Pakpa, were both detained for investigations relating to homicide;
  • In mid-January 2013, four Tsodun Kirti monks were sentenced to prison for charges that stem from ties to monks from the same monastery who self-immolated in 2012. All four were detained at the Kirti monastery in August 2012, but the reasons for their arrest were not made clear at the time, and the monks were subsequently held in an undisclosed location. According to family members and Kirti monks in exile who passed on the information, the Barkham Intermediate People’s Court in Ngaba (Ch. Aba) sentenced Namsey, aged 18, to ten years in prison; Yarphel, aged 18, six years; Lobsang Sengye, aged 19, two years; and Asung, aged 22, two and a half years. Sources believe they were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the self-immolation protests by fellow monks in March and July of 2012, but no further information is known;
  • In August 2012, another Tsodun Kirti monk, Tubwang Tenzin, was arrested.  He has not yet been tried and remains in detention, conditions unknown;
  • In July 2012, three monks belonging to Bongtak monastery in Tsonub (Ch. Haixi) prefecture in Qinghai province were given sentences ranging from 9 to 11 years in prison in connection with the self-immolation death of another monk;
  • In September 2012, two Ngaba (Ch. Aba) Kirti monks were sentenced to prison terms of between 8 and 11 year in connection with the self-immolation deaths of a fellow monk in March 2012;
  • In late June 2012, a week after Ngawang Norphel and Tenzin Khedup self-immolated together, Ngawang Norphel’s wife, Drolma Dekyi, and two other family members were detained for questioning;
  • In August 2011, sentences of 10 and 13 years were given to two monks from Ngaba Kirti monastery for “intentional homicide” in not handing over a monk to the authorities after he had self-immolated, and at least four others were sentenced for sending photographs of self-immolators to exiles.

There are numerous reports of other detentions that have been carried out after the immolations of fellow monks and family members as an apparent deterrent against future immolations. However, those detained are often held in secret and information about them is difficult to obtain.

Self-immolations take place in the context of the Chinese government’s long-standing repressive policies in the Tibetan areas that have seen severe restrictions on Tibetans’ rights. Statements left behind by some individuals make clear their actions were protests against government policies. The current wave of immolations began after the government cracked down on mostly peaceful, large-scale protests against Chinese policies in 2008.

To date there has still been no concerted effort from the Chinese government to address the underlying grievances in Tibet, which have contributed to the rising number of self-immolations by Tibetans. The latest in the 99 self-immolations since February 22, 2009, occurred on January 22, 2013. Twenty-six-year-old Konchok Kyab died after setting fire to himself in Kanlho (Ch. Gannan) Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province.

“Sentencing someone to death for allegedly inciting someone else to commit suicide is neither just nor respectful of the right to life,” said Richardson. “The ongoing prosecution of people linked with self-immolation appears to be about stifling dissent and laying blame on others for this tragedy.  It is time for China to respond to the grievances and human rights violations that appear to be provoking this tragic form of protest.” 

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