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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chinese Lawyer Represents Tibetan Lama on Trial for Weapons Possession

April 24, 2009

International Campaign for Tibet
April 22, 2009

A Chinese lawyer has taken the unprecedented step
of speaking out about a trial on Tuesday April 21
of a respected Tibetan lama, Phurbu Rinpoche,
detained last May and facing charges that could
lead to a lengthy prison sentence. His
Beijing-based lawyer Li Fangping told the
Associated Press in a telephone interview on
Tuesday that Phurbu Rinpoche, who is highly
respected in his local community, is accused of
illegally possessing weapons but that he believes
he was framed. Security was stepped up in the
area due to the trial today, and no verdict has
yet been reached. This is the first known case of
a prominent Tibetan religious leader being
sentenced since the protests began across Tibet
in March, 2008, and the first time that a
defendant in a case connected to the protests is
known to have been assigned a defense lawyer of their or their familyís choice.

A Tibetan source with connections in the area
described Phurbu Rinpoche as having "extremely
high prestige among the local people, and he is a
well-respected and well-loved religious figure."

During the trial on Tuesday in Kangding (Tibetan:
Dartsedo), a Tibetan area of Sichuan province,
Phurbu Rinpoche, speaking in Chinese, denied the
two charges against him, saying that the arms and
explosives found in his home had been put there
to frame him. Lawyer Li Fangping said that the
court had made no investigation into where the
weapons and explosives had come from.

Security was stepped up for the trial, with
strengthened traffic control outside the
courtroom and an increased deployment of People's
Armed Police vehicles and personnel in the town.
There were fears locally that the trial would
lead to further unrest among Tibetans. According
to Tibetan sources, following Phurbu Rinpoche's
detention last year, Pangri nuns and residents of
a nearby old people's home founded by the
Rinpoche had protested again demanding his
release, and were detained. Tibetan nuns have
taken a leading role in dissent in Kardze
prefecture, with approximately 100 nuns from the
area believed to be still in detention following
peaceful protests that continued despite the
severe and ongoing 'anti-separatist' crackdown in Tibetan areas.

The Chinese lawyer representing Phurbu Rinpoche,
a well-known public defender, said that if
convicted of the crimes as charged, Phurbu
Rinpoche could be sentenced to between five and
15 years. He also referred to fears that a
sentence could lead to further unrest in the area.

An official court notice posted outside the court
and dated April 16 stated the following: "On the
date April 21, 2009 as set by this court, the
defendant Phurbu Rinpoche will be tried in public
at Kardze Prefecture Intermediate People's Court
in a case of seizing and occupying state
property, and illegal possession of weapons and
explosives." According to one Tibetan source, the
charge regarding state property is also regarded
to be of little substance and possibly refers to
the elderly people's home set up by the Rinpoche.

According to a source, seven family members were
in attendance at the trial on Tuesday including
Phurbu Rinpoche's wife who was extremely
distressed and crying throughout. No verdict was
reached, but lawyer Li Fanping said that he
feared that a sentence would definitely be passed later.

The charges against Phurbu Rinpoche, as well as
his background as an influential and respected
leader of the community, are similar to those
leveled at Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, serving a life
sentence after being charged with "causing
explosions [and] inciting the separation of the
state" in 2002. Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a
well-known and respected lama, was originally
sentenced to death that was later commuted to
life at the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture
Intermediate People's Court. His current welfare
is unknown. He was detained on charges widely
believed to be false of possessing explosives,
which were allegedly found at his monastery.

More than 20 old men and women live in the old
people's home founded by Phurbu Rinpoche, and he
has also adopted many orphans and disabled
children and provided the opportunity for
children of poor families to go to school. A
Tibetan source with connections in the area said:
"He enjoys extremely high prestige among the
local people, and he is a well-respected and
well-loved religious figure." Phurbu Rinpoche's
many Chinese devotees set up the online network
http://www.burongna.net to support his work.

Eighty nuns from Pangri nunnery, in Su-ngo
township, Kardze, staged a demonstration on May
14, 2008, voicing their distress at the
crackdown, detentions and disappearances that
have followed peaceful protests in different
areas of the Tibetan plateau, as well as
resentment against the implementation of the
'patriotic education' campaign by the Chinese
authorities. The nuns from Pangri, headed by
Phurbu Rinpoche, gave the following reasons for
their protest: "It is better to die than to
denounce, criticize and attack the Dalai Lama, to
sign official documents denouncing the Dalai
Lama, if there is no place for us to worship and
live, let us go somewhere else or die, if the
Chinese authorities kill us, let us be killed, we
have no regrets." (Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy).

On the afternoon of May 14, 2008 the nuns marched
peacefully towards the Kardze county government
headquarters chanting slogans calling for the
Dalai Lama's return to Tibet. They were detained
as soon as they approached the building and taken
away in police vehicles. Many of the nuns were
seen by witnesses to be severely beaten, with
stains of blood seen in the street after they
were taken away. A few days later and following a
raid by armed police on Phurbu Rinpoche's home
resulting in his detention, some of the nuns who
remained at Pangri also protested and were detained.
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