10/16/2008, 00.00
CHINA - TIBET

Post-Olympics: more life sentences for Tibetan monks

On September 23, eight monks were sentenced at a secret trial, for an attack against a public building, without proof and in violation of any right of defense. Free Tibet Campaign: with the continuing illegal detentions and abuses, "it is urgent" that independent observers be admitted.

Dharamsala (AsiaNews) - Eight Tibetan Buddhist monks have been sentenced to life in prison or to long imprisonment for a bombing attack, without any victims, on March 23, against a government building in the city of Gyanbe, about 1,400 kilometers east of Lhasa. The monks, all from the Thangkya monastery (Tongxia in Chinese) near Gyanbe, in jail since April, were sentenced on September 23 - immediately after the end of the Paralympics - by a tribunal in the prefecture of Chamdo, at the end of a secret trial. Not even their relatives were informed, although in general in China there is a great uproar over trials for such attacks.

Sources for AsiaNews say that the most basic rights of defense have been violated: the monks were unable to see their relatives, nor could they have any legal assistance, during the entire period of their detention up until their sentencing. The state newspaper People's Daily reported on April 14 that all of the monks confessed. But sources for AsiaNews respond that this "is not credible," and that the monks were tortured to extract confessions. The affair is being compared to the one in 2002 that led to a death sentence for Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a trusted collaborator of the Dalai Lama, who was also accused in a bombing attack.

Condemned to life sentences are the monks Gyurmey Dhondup, 28, and Kalsang Tseri 20, while the six others were sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in prison. It is not clear what they were accused of. Two other monks arrested in April have been released, while the fate of the monk Sichod is unknown after he was arrested with them but then disappeared. The layman Tseten, who worked in a store near the monastery and was arrested with monks, remains in jail.

Stephanie Bridgen, director of the Free Tibet Campaign, observes that "This case, like so many others in Tibet, demonstrates the urgent need for international media and independent agencies to be allowed immediate and free access to all areas of Tibet to investigate the accounts of arbitrary detention and abuse of Tibetans that continue to emerge. World leaders must do more to bring appropriate pressure on Chinese leaders to open up Tibet to independent scrutiny."

The monks in Tibet began peaceful protests on March 10, which after four days erupted into clashes with the police and army, with killings and guerrilla combat. Since then, the area has been off-limits to the foreign media. Only a few areas have been reopened for tourism, and they are carefully watched. The Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala (India) charges that China has arrested more than 1,000 people, and that there have been at least 140 deaths, while Beijing says there have been only 22 victims, mostly of Chinese ethnicity. (NC)

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