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Tibetans sentenced for attempt to retake communal land

April 18, 2016

Radio Free Asia, April 11, 2016 - A group of four Tibetans was sentenced on Monday to up to three years in prison for their attempt last year to reclaim land seized by local authorities in western China’s Sichuan province, the RFA's Tibetan Service has learned.

Rinchen Dorje, Kurde Yeshe and  Phurko  received two-year jail terms, while Jigje Kyab was given a three-year term,  for their part in the attempt to take the land back from the government, sources inside Tibet told RFA.

None of the Tibetans will have to serve out their entire sentence in prison, however, as an unusual sentencing arrangement allowed them to serve their terms on parole, as long as they agreed to serve an additional six months.  All four agreed to take the deal, the sources tell RFA.

The four were part of a group of Tibetans who had briefly reoccupied confiscated community land in Thangkor town in Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

During the trial, each defendant was asked who was responsible for marking and fencing off the disputed land. Five years ago the government confiscated the parcel for a development project, but no developer has begun work on the land and local authorities were leasing it out to private individuals. 

“During the proceedings, Jigje Kyab asked the court to spare Rinchen Dorje, who is in poor health, and to send him to prison in his place, with Rinchen Dorje asking that he be sentenced instead of Jigje Kyab, “who is still young and has his whole future ahead of him,” RFA’s source said.

In April, Jigje Kyab, also known as Jigme Kyab, went into hiding after a Thangkor official and local government employees visited his home, and said via video at the time that he had “evaded capture” and was in a safe place.

Entrusted by community members with documents supporting Tibetan claims to the confiscated property, Kyab said he had gone into hiding so that he could present the community’s case to higher provincial authorities.

Kyab also played a role in organizing a Jan. 28 protest by 20 Thangkor-area Tibetans in the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

In that incident, authorities quickly broke up the protest and detained 11 Tibetans, later releasing all but two, after the group petitioned in front of government buildings during a meeting of the Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress for the return of their land.

According to sources, the occupation of land in Thangkor was “not related to a specific Chinese policy … but was the work of local authorities who had bullied the Tibetan residents for their personal gain.”

The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of “mass incidents” across China every year.

Many result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government’s wishes.

Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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