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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."

Justice Denied for Tibetans

April 28, 2009

The 'trial' of a monk highlights Beijing's repression.
By WOESER
April 27, 2009
The Wall Street Journal Asia

Before dawn on the morning of May 18, 2008, the
authorities cut off all forms of communications
in the small rural town -- telephones, mobile
phones, the Internet and even roads in and around
the area. At around 6 a.m., more than 1,000
members of the People's Liberation Army, People's
Armed Police and local and special police units
prepared to make their assault on a small house.
Around the same time, more than 4,000 soldiers
and police divided up to surround and take control of two nearby nunneries.

Their target? Buramna Rinpoche, a 52-year-old
Living Buddha and head of Pangri and Yatseg
nunneries in Kardze, a Tibetan county of Sichuan
province. The story of this religious leader, who
operated a home for the elderly and took care of
orphans and handicapped children, is symptomatic
of Beijing's heavy-handed treatment of Tibetans.
It also explains why the so-called Tibet question
is not going to disappear any time soon.

The joint military-police unit easily forced its
way into the house, where authorities say they
discovered a rifle, a pistol and more than 100
rounds of ammunition hidden under a bed in the
living room. The monk was arrested under charges
of possessing illegal firearms and ammunition. He
was also later charged with the illegal occupation of state land.

The arrest more likely is connected to an
incident that had occurred four days earlier,
when 80 nuns from the Pangri and Yatseg nunneries
took to the streets to carry out a peaceful
protest against the Chinese government's
"patriotic education" campaign, which pressured
Tibetans to denounce the Dalai Lama, Tibet's
spiritual leader who now lives in exile in India.
These religious women peacefully handed out
leaflets and shouted slogans criticizing the
campaign, but according to an eyewitness with
whom I've spoken several thousand military and
police were mobilized to deal with the protest,
in which many of the women were severely beaten and arrested.

The authorities apparently believed that the nuns
had acted upon the instructions of Mr. Buramna,
as he is responsible for both nunneries. So from
that day on, his every movement was monitored.

Mr. Buramna was transferred after his arrest to
the Luhuo County Detention Center. There,
according to his lawyer, he was handcuffed to a
railing for four days and kept awake day and
night by two guards. During these four days, he
says he was tortured and police threatened to
arrest his wife and son if he did not sign a
confession to possessing illegal weapons. Under
such duress, Mr. Buramna signed and made a
thumbprint on a confession admitting to the
charges. He later recanted this "confession" in court.

Mr. Buramna's family hired two Chinese lawyers
from Beijing to defend him. The two, Li Fangping
and Jiang Tianyong, are well-known human rights
defenders. Mr. Jiang was one of 21 Chinese
lawyers who signed a public statement on April 1,
2008, offering to provide legal defense to
Tibetans who were arrested in connection with
protests that broke out in March 2008 in Tibetan
areas throughout China. The government has
threatened to close the law firms, or revoke
individual lawyers' licenses, if these lawyers
involve themselves in the Tibet issue, Human Rights Watch has reported.

On the morning of April 21, the trial opened in
Kangding County, a one- to two-day drive away,
rather than Kardze County, Mr. Buramna's hometown
and scene of the alleged crime, apparently to
prevent local Tibetan monks and lay people from
protesting outside the courtroom. Mr. Buramna
appeared in court wearing the bright yellow and
crimson red robes of a Tibetan monk. Seven
members of his family, including his wife and
son, were in the court, some crying throughout
the trial. Speaking in Chinese, Mr. Buramna
denied the alleged crimes, arguing in particular
that the weapons and ammunition found at his home
had been planted there to frame him.

Mr. Buramna's lawyers say they were allowed only
limited access to their client before trial and
they were not allowed to access all the court
documents related to the case, which limited
their ability to cross-examine witnesses. Even
so, they noted at trial that the court did not
investigate the source of the firearms and
ammunition, and even failed to check for
fingerprints. They argued that the monk's living
room was a public place that saw a large number
of people coming and going, and that anyone could
have hidden the weapons there. They stated
further that an examination of documents related
to the land used for the elderly people's home,
which the government said was occupied illegally,
showed the site was not state-owned.

The lawyers repeated the monk's assertion that he
was tortured for four days and was forced to sign
the confession under duress, which would make it
invalid for use as a basis for conviction. No
verdict was handed down at the end of the
hearing, the court saying it would announce the
sentence at another date. If convicted, Mr.
Buramna will face a prison term of between five and 15 years.

Yet Beijing would be wrong to think that will be
the end of the matter. The incident has led to
widespread anger among Tibetans in the area. On
the morning of Mr. Buramna's arrest, a number of
monks and ordinary people in Kardze held a
demonstration demanding his release; they were
surrounded by the police and beaten, according to
the same witness who saw the nuns' original
protest. The elderly residents in his welfare
institution also tried to protest, but according
to the same source, their home was surrounded by
the police. In June, there were more protests
seeking his release, and several people were beaten and arrested.

Mr. Buramna's trial is the first of a major
religious leader to be held since last year's
disturbances in Tibetan areas. It's a sad
commentary on the situation that one can say that
at least this trial is being held in public. But
such trials will not bring stability to the area.
The nuns whose protest seems to have sparked this
case acted spontaneously, and their protest had
nothing to do with Mr. Buramna. They, and all
Tibetans, want justice in their region. Putting
Mr. Buramna in jail will only increase that thirst.

Ms. Woeser, a Tibetan poet, writer and blogger,
lives in Beijing. This article was translated from the Chinese by Paul Mooney.
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