01/26/2005, 00.00
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Death sentence commuted to life for Tibetan monk

Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche was sentenced three years ago. His right-hand man Tashi Phuntsog was freed after suffering a physical and mental breakdown in prison.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China has commuted Tibetan monk Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche's 2002 death sentence for terrorism to life imprisonment. Rinpoche and his aide, 28-year-old Lobsang Dhondup, were found guilty of carrying out bomb attacks in Ganzi, near Tibet's eastern border, and in Chengdu, Sichuan province's capital. One person died and another was wounded in the attacks. The trial was in camera and the accused were not afforded legal council of their choice.

Foreign human rights groups and United Nations human rights experts have said that Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche's his arrest and detention were illegal and that his trial was not fair.

Both monks were sentenced to death but whilst Rinpoche went to prison Lobsang Dhondup was executed in January 2003.

Rinpoche's case had elicited a worldwide reaction including political leaders. The latest was Canada's Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew, who in early December said that "his and other governments had exerted diplomatic pressures on Beijing".

His sentence has now been commuted to life for good behaviour in prison in the past two years.

Chinese law allows for commutation if the inmate does not violate any prison rules.

On January 6 Rinpoche's right-hand man Tashi Phuntsog was released but according to Human Rights Watch, he is a "physically broken man".

"Tashi Phuntsog entered prison as a healthy man in his early forties, and he was cast out literally as a broken man", said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

"We welcome Tashi Phuntsog's early release, but Chinese officials have to explain how they allowed this to happen to someone in their custody."

He is no longer able to walk or speak clearly.

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