Chinese Court Sentences 30 to Prison in Lhasa Rioting

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BEIJING, April 29 -- A Chinese court Tuesday sentenced 30 people to jail for alleged participation in last month's deadly rioting in Lhasa, the first convictions following an aggressive hunt for the leaders of anti-government protests that swept through Tibetan areas on China's western plateau.

Those convicted will serve terms from three years to life in prison, state news media reported. The reports said more than 200 people attended the "open trial" in Lhasa, but it was unclear whether the accused had legal representation. Foreign journalists are barred from reporting in Tibet.

Police in the Tibetan-inhabited Qinghai region reported, meanwhile, that two people were killed in an exchange of gunfire as authorities tried to arrest a Tibetan man accused of leading riots in the area soon after the Lhasa disturbances. The official New China News Agency said a Public Security Bureau officer, Lama Cedain, was shot and killed as the alleged ringleader resisted arrest early Monday in Dari county. Officers then shot and killed the fugitive, the agency said, quoting the Public Security Bureau.

China's handling of the Tibetan unrest has drawn protests around the world, most visibly along the route of the Olympic torch. The torch's "journey of harmony" became an opportunity for confrontation in some of the 19 cities it visited this month on its way to Beijing for the Summer Games.

Authorities in Tibet have moved swiftly to arrest hundreds suspected of involvement in the protests and to conclude their trials as officials prepare for the most controversial leg of the torch relay -- over Mount Everest, through Tibet and into its capital, Lhasa. Weather permitting, the torchbearers should make their ascent in the next few days. A small group of journalists allowed to cover the event arrived at the Everest base camp Monday.

An American mountaineer caught with a "Free Tibet" banner last week on the Nepal side of Everest has been deported, the Associated Press reported. Citing trekking company officials, it also said Nepal had imposed a near blackout on communications on its side of the mountain.

It is unclear how many others are awaiting trial in Lhasa. Jiang Zaiping, deputy head of the Lhasa police, told Chinese reporters last week that 170 were on a "wanted list" and that 82 of those had been arrested. Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region government, told reporters at a news conference in Beijing this month that 403 people had been arrested in connection with the March 14 rioting.

Pro-Tibetan protests, some violent, broke out in several western Chinese provinces after the Lhasa rioting, and exile groups say as many as 2,300 people have been arrested. That figure could not be independently verified.

In Lhasa, 22 people were killed in the rioting, according to the government. It also says five hospitals, seven schools and 120 homes were set afire and 908 stores were looted on March 14. Exile groups say scores died in the rioting and subsequent crackdown.

The Intermediate People's Court of Lhasa handed down 30 sentences Tuesday. Three people received life sentences, according to government media. One was a monk, identified as Basang, who was charged with leading 10 people, including five other monks, to destroy a local government office, burn and loot 11 shops and attack police officers, the New China News Agency reported. Two of the monks who were with him got 20 years in prison; the three others got 15 years.

"It's impossible to say whether these are fair trials or not," said Cheng Hai, a Beijing lawyer, one of 18 who signed an open letter April 2 offering their services to defend the accused. "I don't know if they received enough legal assistance."

Another lawyer who signed the letter, Teng Biao, said officials pressured them to withdraw the offer. Teng said the Justice and Public Security bureaus in Beijing met with him after the letter was submitted and told him: "The Tibet issue is very sensitive. Don't get involved."

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