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China Jails 30 Tibetans for Riots

April 30, 2008

By ANDREW JACOBS
The New York Times
April 30, 2008

BEIJING ­ A Chinese court in Tibet sentenced 30 people to prison on
Tuesday for their role in the anti-China riots that broke out in Lhasa,
the capital, last month, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The
riots and subsequent crackdown left scores of people dead and earned
China international criticism of its human rights record.

The sentences, ranging from three years to life in prison, are the first
batch of punishments meted out to those accused of taking part in the
looting, vandalism and violence that authorities say left 19 people
dead. Officials are still seeking dozens of others who have gone into
hiding.

The sentences were announced on a day when a Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman said she had no information about the planned talks between
the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, the exiled
Tibetan spiritual leader.

On Friday, China appeared to yield to international pressure by
announcing that it would meet with the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese
government has blamed for the unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region and
adjacent provinces with large Tibetan populations.

The government’s decision to speak to the Dalai Lama is widely seen as
an attempt to blunt the anti-Chinese protests that have tarnished the
Olympic torch relay as it tours cities around the world.

Even as she held out the promise of talks, the Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, on Tuesday continued the government’s verbal
assault on the Dalai Lama.

“We hope the Dalai can cherish this opportunity, recognize the situation
and change his position to take concrete measures to stop his criminal
acts of violence, stop his sabotage of the Beijing Olympics and his
separatist activities, so as to create conditions for the next step of
talks,” she said during a news conference.

The Dalai Lama has denied any involvement in the March 14 unrest in
Lhasa, which led to further unrest in neighboring regions and a
government crackdown, and has long insisted he is seeking greater
autonomy for Tibetan parts of western China, not an independent Tibet.

Thubten Samphel, a spokesman for the Central Tibetan Administration in
Dharamshala, India, home of the Tibetan government in exile, said the
Dalai Lama’s envoys were still awaiting word on when and where a
dialogue might take place.

“We are in touch with them through all the means of communications
available in the modern world,” he said. “We hope the meeting takes
place as soon as possible.”

It is not entirely clear what might be accomplished during such a
meeting. Until talks broke off last summer, the two sides had met a half
dozen times since 2002 without much progress. Discussions have largely
avoided the subject of enhanced Tibetan autonomy and have focused
instead on the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet, which he fled in 1959,
during a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

If the sentences issued on Tuesday by a provincial court in Lhasa are
any guide, the government has no intention of softening its position on
Tibet or on those who had a hand in rioting that has deeply shaken the
Beijing government.

According to the account provided by Xinhua, the trials took place on
Tuesday at the Intermediate People’s Court and drew 200 spectators. One
of the men given a life term was Soi’nam Norbu, 20, a driver for a local
real estate company who was accused of burning cars and throwing stones
at fire engines and police stations.

“He was convicted of arson and disrupting public services," the court
said in a news release.

Another man who received a life sentence, a monk named Basang, was
blamed for leading a group of 10 people who attacked the police and
destroyed shops and a local government office. The other members of the
group, including five monks, were sentenced to 15 or 20 years.

According to the government, the violence claimed 19 lives and destroyed
seven schools, five hospitals and 120 homes. Tibetan exile groups say
more than 200 people, most of them Tibetans, have been killed in the
government crackdown that followed. They also reject the government’s
contention that fewer than 100 people are awaiting trial.

Urgen Tenzin, the executive director of the Tibetan Center for Human
Rights and Democracy, said he has learned from sources within China that
5,000 people have been detained in recent weeks.

He said he expected many of them to draw long sentences.

“There is no way to get a fair trial in China,” he said, speaking from
Dharamsala. “If they are doing this now with all the pressure from
around the world, imagine how it will be after the Olympics.”
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