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Chinese Court Postpones Judgment on Tibetan Living Buddha

April 29, 2009

Lawyers say decision may reflect international
concern over case of Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche
Jane Macartney in Beijing
The Times (UK)
April 27, 2009

A Chinese court has decided at the last minute to
postpone judgment on a Tibetan living Buddha who
faces 15 years in jail on charges of possessing
illegal weapons and illegally seizing government land.

Jiang Tianyong, one of two defence lawyers for
Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, was already en route to
the airport for the airport for tomorrow’s court
session in the remote town of Kangding when a deputy judge telephoned.

The second lawyer, Li Fangping, said: "They
notified me that the date to announce a verdict
had been postponed. There is no new date. They
said they would let me know in due course.”

Legal experts said that such a move was rare for
a Chinese court and could indicate that the
unusually spirited defence presented in court and
the international publicity the case has
attracted could have prompted unexpected debate
among judicial officials over the sentence.

The case against the 52-year-old defendant was
heard on April 21 and marked the first time that
a Tibetan accused of involvement in last year’s
anti-Chinese unrest in the region had been able
to select his own defence lawyers. In the case of
Phurbu Rinpoche, a tulku or reincarnation, his
ability to speak Chinese enabled him to find legal help.

The monk, the fifth incarnation of a revered
Buddhist teacher, known by the title of Burongma,
was arrested on March 18 last year, four days
after nuns from two religious houses over which
he presides took to the streets in demonstrations
just as 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.

Phurbu Rinpoche denies possession of the weapon
and says that he signed a confession under police duress.

Mr Jiang told The Times: "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.”

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

A tough sentence against the monk could trigger
renewed outbreaks of 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.

Mr Jiang said: "I can’t say if local people will
come out to protest if he is jailed, but such a
move might not help the unity among local ethnic
groups since he enjoys high prestige among the masses.”

The monk, identified as a reincarnation when he
was seven months old, was in good spirits when
the lawyers were able to see him before his
trial, which lasted for a full day last Tuesday.

Mr Jiang said: "I doubt if the case will be dealt
with fairly. But compared with similar cases,
this has been the best handled. At least I met my
client and talked to him.” He said he feared that
the court could hand down a heavy sentence.

Several Tibetans have already been sentenced to
death for arson during the riot on March 14 in
Lhasa. Chinese officials say that 22 people were
killed, most burnt to death, as angry Tibetans
rampaged through the streets setting fire to
shops and offices and demanding the return of the Dalai Lama.
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