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Two Tibetans sentenced to death in Lhasa

April 11, 2009

ICT Report
International Campaign for Tibet
April 9, 2009

The Lhasa Intermediate People's Court in the
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), has sentenced two
Tibetans to death on charges relating to
"starting fatal fires", according to an official
report published today. These are the first known
death sentences passed against Tibetans in
connection with the Lhasa riots on March 14,
2008. Two other Tibetans were sentenced to death
with a two-year reprieve and one other was
sentenced to life imprisonment in a total of
three separate cases of arson, reportedly
involving the deaths of seven people, according
to the state media. The full Xinhua report,
published in English but apparently not yet in Chinese, is included below.

The official report names Losang Gyaltse
[Gyaltsen] as being sentenced to death "for
setting fire to two garment shops in downtown
Lhasa on March 14 that killed a shop owner Zuo
Rencun." In another case, Loyar received the
death penalty, Gangtsu was given a death sentence
with a two-year reprieve, and Dawa Sangpo was
sentenced to life imprisonment. A defendant
called Tenzin Phuntsog was sentenced to death
reprieved for two years for setting fire to a
garment shop in which the husband and wife owners
of the shop were injured and their daughter killed.

In reference to the Chinese authorities'
assertion that the 'Dalai clique' orchestrated
the protests, a spokesman explained that the
court had been lenient on Tenzin Phuntsog because
"he had been put up to the violence," and had
"showed a positive attitude in admitting his
crime after he was arrested," whereas Losang
Gyaltsen and Loyar "have to be executed to assuage the people's anger."

A similar case allegedly involving the deaths of
five people in a fire is reportedly "still under
trial," but the report did not say how many
defendants were involved in that trial, nor when
a verdict and sentence is expected.

There are serious concerns about the fairness of
the procedures and the treatment of the detainees
in custody prior to sentencing. While the Xinhua
report states that detainees  were represented by
lawyers, there is evidence in earlier trials of
Tibetans following the outbreak of protests last
March that the rights of defendants to be
represented by the lawyer of their choice was
ignored by the judicial authorities, due to the
politicized nature of the process. In the
immediate wake of the March 2008 protests,
several lawyers were threatened with disbarment
if they attempted to represent detained
Tibetans, according to Human Rights Watch. (See
'China: Rights Lawyers Face Disbarment Threats:
Intimidation Overshadows Reforms to Law on
Lawyers,' May 30, 2009, Human Rights Watch,

Another report published in March 2009 by Human
Rights Watch stated the process of trials and
imprisonment in Tibet over the past year "reflect
a pattern of systematic political interference
with legal and judicial processes in the name of
an ideologically-driven 'anti-separatist
campaign' under the Communist Party leadership.
The principle of independence of the judiciary is
thoroughly undermined by the leadership's demand
that court and police tailor their actions to
political requirements." (China: Hundreds of
Tibetan Detainees and Prisoners Unaccounted For, March 9, 2009).

Chinese court sentences two to death on starting fatal fires in Lhasa riot
Xinhua, April 8, 2009

LHASA, April 8 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese court on
Wednesday sentenced two people to death after
finding them guilty of starting fatal fires in
Lhasa riot in March last year, a court spokesman said.

Two others were given death sentences each with a
two-year reprieve, and another would face life
imprisonment, also on arson charges, said the
spokesman with the Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People's Court.

The five were tried in three separate arson
cases, in which altogether seven civilians were
killed and five shops torched in Lhasa, capital
of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, according to the court verdicts.

Another arson case is still under trial, in which
five civilians were killed and a shop burnt down.

Of those convicted, Losang Gyaltse got death
penalty for setting fire to two garment shops in
downtown Lhasa on March 14 that killed a shop
owner Zuo Rencun, the court heard.

In another case, Loyar, Gangtsu, and Dawa Sangpo
torched a motorcycle dealership in the Deqen
Township in Lhasa's Dagze County on March 15 last
year. Five people, including the shop owner Liang
Zhiwei, Liang's wife, son and two employees, were left dead.

Loyar received a death penalty, Gangtsu was given
a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, and
Dawa Sangpo got life imprisonment, according to the court verdicts.

In the third case, Tenzin Phuntsog was sentenced
to death but also with a two-year reprieve. He
was convicted of setting fire to a garment shop
which spread to a neighboring garment shop in
downtown Lhasa on March 14 last year. A shop
owner Liu Guobing and his wife were injured and
Liu's daughter was burnt to death, the court heard.

"His crime deserves the death penalty, but judges
reached the verdict while taking into
consideration that he had been put up to the
violence and showed a positive attitude in
admitting his crime after he was arrested," the court spokesman said.

The sentences were made at the first instance
trial Wednesday afternoon, he said.

"The three arson cases are among the crimes that
led to the worst consequences in the March 14
riot," he said. "Their crimes incurred great
losses to people's lives and property and
severely undermine the social order, security and stability."

He cited the case of the youngest victim, Liang
Zhiwei's son, who was only eight months old.

He said the judges have followed the criminal
policy of "tempering justice with mercy" and
"exercising strict and cautious control over the
use of death penalty" in handling the cases.

"The two defendants given death penalties had
committed extremely serious crimes and have to be
executed to assuage the people's anger. For those
defendants who deserve lesser punishments under
statutory or discretionary circumstances, they
were given lighter punishments according to the law," he said.

The spokesman also said the court had given open
trials strictly abiding by the Criminal Procedure
Law of the People's Republic of China.

"The court also provided Tibetan interpreters for the defendants," he said.

"Their lawyers fully voiced their defenses. The
litigious rights of the defendants were fully
safeguarded and their customs and dignity were respected," he added.

Death penalty cases in China

Often in the People's Republic of China, death
sentences are passed months or even weeks after a
suspect has been detained on suspicion of
committing a capital crime. In the cases in
Lhasa, sentencing took more than a year and may
be due to the political sensitivities.

A court spokesperson quoted in the report above
states that this was the "first instance trial".
Under Chinese law, the verdicts and death
sentences will now be subject to mandatory appeal
- a "second instance trial" at a High People's
Court - although in China most appeals fail.

Up until 2007, the "second instance trial",
consisting of little more than a closed-door
review of documents, was all that was needed for
the death penalty in most categories of crime to
be approved and carried out immediately. 'Mobile
execution chambers' - vans fitted with apparatus
for administering lethal injections - are
available outside courts so convicts can be
executed immediately upon being taken from their
holding cells. Or alternatively, and generally in
more rural areas where space permits, people are
taken from detention and shot with a single
bullet to the back of the head. This is what
happened in 2003 to Lobsang Dhundup, a
co-defendant of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, despite
assurances to US government officials in China at
the time that his case would receive a "lengthy
review". (See: 'The Execution of Lobsang Dondrub
and the Case Against Tenzin Deleg: The Law, the
Courts, and the Debate on Legality,'
Congressional-Executive Commission on China,
February 10, 2003,

In the face of mounting domestic and
international criticism of the sweeping use of
the death penalty in China, a reform was
introduced in 2007 whereby all death sentences
had to undergo an additional review at the
central Supreme People's Court in Beijing, in an
apparent attempt to introduce a degree of
consistency and additional restraint to the application of the death penalty.

A suspended death sentence is one where a death
sentence is imposed, but it is postponed for two
years while the prisoner's behavior continues to
be assessed. It is very rare, however, that
people given suspended death sentences are ever
actually executed. Those who have been executed
committed fairly major transgressions in prison,
such as serious violence against other prisoners or prison staff.

For further information on the March 14, 2008
riots and the protests across Tibet over the past
year, see: 'A Great Mountain Burned by Fire:
China's Crackdown in Tibet,'

Press contact:
Kate Saunders
Communications Director, ICT
Tel: +44 7947 138612

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