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Tibetan 'living Buddha' Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche jailed by China

December 31, 2009

December 30, 2009

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche was allowed to have defence lawyers which may
have kept the sentence down

Jane Macartney, China Correspondent, Times

China has sentenced a revered Tibetan living Buddha to eight-and-a-half
years in jail on charges of illegally occupying government land and
possession of weapons.

The court in the western town of Kangding handed down the conviction
more than eight months after Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche’s trial. It marked
the first time a Tibetan arrested following last year’s riots had been
allowed to select his own defence lawyers.

He had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison on the two charges and it
is possible that the presence of his lawyers persuaded the judges from
imposing an even longer term. The judges may also have been wary of
handing down a lengthier sentence for fear of renewed outbreaks of
anti-Chinese unrest among supporters in the mainly ethnically Tibetan
region that is his home. He commands thousands of disciples in Tibet as
well as in other areas of China.
The court sentenced him to seven years in prison on the charge of
illegally occupying government land and to an additional year for
possession of bullets, Tibetan sources told The Times.

However, his lawyers could not be present for the sentencing since both
men – prominent for their willingness to handle sensitive human rights
cases — were disbarred earlier this year.
Phurbu Rinpoche, a tulku or reincarnation, had been enabled by his
ability to speak Chinese to find legal help.

The monk was arrested on March 28 last year, four days after nuns from
two religious houses over which he presides took to the streets in
demonstrations shortly after deadly rioting erupted in the Tibetan
capital, Lhasa.
A police search of the home of the living Buddha, who presides over
several religious houses and runs an old people’s home, turned up an
imitation pistol and 100 rounds of ammunition that police said could
cause severe injury or even be fatal.

Local officials, unaware that his lawyers had a background in human
rights, had told them when they arrived that the leaders had decided
that the living Buddha must be jailed as an example to prevent other
reincarnations from using their influence to stir up anti-Chinese unrest.

His family said that the court appeared to have failed on charges of
possession of illegal weapons. One relative, who declined to be
identified, said: “It seems they couldn’t make the charge about a gun
stand up so they used the bullets. As for illegally occupying land, this
land was given to the living Buddha himself to build an old people’s
home so there is no question of it being illegal.”

At the time of his trial, the court had made no attempt to investigate
the weapons charges, his lawyer said. As for the illegal occupation of
public land, his lawyer argued that the monk had spent 70,000 yuan
(£7,000) of his money to buy the plot on which he built the old people’s

His lawyer had said: “The living room of such a venerated monk is a
public place with people coming and going every day. Someone could have
put the weapons there. His wife has said she had never seen them before
when cleaning the house.”

Phurbu Rinpoche is the fifth incarnation of a revered Buddhist teacher,
known by the title of Burongma. He was identified as a reincarnation
when he was seven months old. Now 53, he did not formally become a monk
until after the chaotic ultra-leftist Cultural Revolution from 1966 to
1976 when all Tibetan monasteries were closed. By the time he took
religious orders he was already married with two sons.
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