Ngaba prison terms

30th August 2011

Monks sentenced in Ngaba in connection with Phuntsog's death

China has sentenced six monks, in connection with the death of Phuntsog, a monk from Kirti Monastery, Ngaba County who died on 17 March after setting himself on fire. All six monks were very closely related to Phuntsog.

UPDATE: Three monks were sentenced in September. Two of them Dorjee, only 16 and Tseko, 22 are said to be Phuntsog's best friends. Lobsang Darjee is one of Phuntsog's brothers. The charges against are not known. All three were sentenced to re-eduation through labour. Re-education through labour is a system of administrative detention in China, issued by the police not a judicial court. In 2008 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that re-education through labour is " systematic form of inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, if not torture".

Lengthy prison sentences

Three monks were sentenced in August to lengthy prison sentences. Phuntsog’s uncle, Tsundue was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for “intentional homicide” which included delaying treatment. Tsering Tamding, 22 and Lobsang Tenzin, 21 were sentenced to 13 and 10 years respectively for “plotting and assisting” in the self-immolation.

Chinese state media reports that the three monks ‘confessed to their crimes’ raises the risk they were ill-treated while in custody and may have been subject to degrading treatment or even torture.

The charge that other monks instigated and assisted Phuntsog have been rigorously denied by a spokesperson at Kirti Monastery in Dharamsala, India and do not reflect the non-violent nature of Tibetan opposition to China’s occupation.

Although it has been impossible to confirm exactly what led to the delays in Phuntsog being taken to hospital, we can only speculate that this was informed by concerns that Phuntsog might be taken into detention.

Tabe, another monk from Kirti monastery who set himself on fire in 2009 was detained at the scene and his whereabouts remain unknown. Tabe’s parents are able to visit him at the invitation of authorities but for very limited periods. Tabe has also been used for propaganda purposes. In July this year he was interviewed on a local TV channel where he said he regretted what he did. It is not possible to confirm if Tabe gave the interview under duress.

Free Tibet believes that these prosecutions are part of a wider pattern of abuses in response to the acts of self-immolation, which are aimed at preventing further acts of protest as well as deterring people from disseminating information within Tibet and externally, including to the international media who are unable to report freely from Tibet. The acts of self immolation secured global media coverage exposing how desperate some Tibetans have become, in direct conflict with the images and rhetoric the Chinese state promotes.

It is understood that anyone closely associated with any of the three monks who self-immolated are “under intense pressure”. According to Chinese state media, a monk accused of emailing a photograph of Phuntsog to ‘a monk living abroad’ will be sentenced shortly. Another monk from Kirti monastery, Gotsang Jamyang, is already serving a 6-year sentence for sending information about Tabe’s self –immolation in 2009. Two monks from Nyitso monastery, where Tsewang Norbu resided before he self-immolated in August, have also been detained on unknown charges. Following the 2008 protests, there was a similar spate of sentences for those accused of sharing information, including a life sentence for a young Tibetan NGO worker in Lhasa, accused of emailing information about the protests overseas.