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China: Tibetan Protesters Denied Fair Trial

May 1, 2008

Sentenced in Secret After Party Urges ‘Quick Hearings’
Human Rights Watch

(New York, April 30, 2008) – The trials of 30 Tibetans accused of
participating in violent protests on March 14 in Lhasa were not open and
public, as claimed by the Chinese government, and did not meet minimum
international standards of due process, Human Rights Watch said today.

On April 29, 2008, the Intermediate People’s Court in Lhasa, capital of
the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), conducted a “sentencing rally”
(xuanpan dahui), during which the Tibetans’ sentences, which ranged from
three years to life in prison, were announced. Reports from the official
Chinese news agency Xinhua characterized the proceedings as an “open
court session.” The actual trial proceedings, in which evidence from the
prosecution was introduced, had been conducted covertly on undisclosed
dates earlier in April.

“Guilty or innocent, these Tibetans (and any other defendant in China),
are entitled to a fair trial,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy
director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, they were tried on secret
evidence behind closed doors and without the benefit of a meaningful
defense by lawyers they’d chosen.”

Human Rights Watch said that severe flaws in the regional authorities’
handling of the Tibetan protests precluded fair trials of people
suspected of having participated in the disturbances. These flaws
included a consistent failure to establish a distinction between
peaceful and violent protesters; statements by the Procuratorate (the
Public Prosecution) at the time of the suspected protesters’ arrest that
assumed their guilt rather than their innocence; and secret trial
proceedings. On March 17, Zhang Qinli, the TAR Communist Party
secretary, urged that there be “quick arrests, quick hearings, and quick
sentencings” of the people involved in the protests, virtually a
political directive to circumvent guarantees for a fair and impartial
legal process.

In addition, these 30 Tibetans may have been denied their right to their
own counsel. All the lawyers who had publicly offered to defend Tibetan
protesters were forced to withdraw their assistance after judicial
authorities in Beijing threatened to discipline them and suspend their
professional licenses. The authorities claimed that the Tibetan
protesters were “not ordinary cases, but sensitive cases.” The
government made clear it would not respect their right to choose their
own counsel. In China, criminal suspects are often coerced by the law
enforcement authorites to forfeit their right to a defense lawyer or to
accept court-appointed attorneys who are under effective control of the
judiciary. In a 142-page report published on April 29, Human Rights
Watch documented a pattern of interference and political control of
lawyers who take cases viewed as politically sensitive by government and
party authorities (

Human Rights Watch said that the government’s efforts at preventing the
involvement of lawyers in the Lhasa cases suggested a deliberate policy
of secrecy and concealment.

“The Chinese authorities have so restricted the defendents’ rights that
the hearings are no more than a rubber stamp,” Richardson said. “This
isn’t fair and transparent justice, it’s political punishment
masquerading as a legal process.”

Human Rights Watch said that the Chinese government had the right to
prosecute and punish individuals who had committed violent acts, but
that it should not suspend due process guarantees. Human Rights Watch
said the political character of these first convictions raised serious
concerns about future trials. A large number of trials of Tibetans
accused of involvement in protests across Tibetan areas are expected to
be held in the coming months.

To view the new Human Rights Watch report, “Walking on Thin Ice:
Control, Intimidation and Harassment of Lawyers in China,” please visit:

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on China and Tibet, please visit:

For more information, please contact:

In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin):
+1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
In Hong Kong, Nicholas Bequelin (English, French, Mandarin):
+852-8198-1040 (mobile)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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