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Tibetan Lama on Trial for Weapons Charge in China

April 24, 2009

April 22, 2009

BEIJING -- A respected Tibetan lama went on trial
on weapons charges Tuesday as three people were
sentenced to lengthy prison terms for deadly
arson attacks during last year's rioting in the Tibetan capital.

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, who headed a convent in
Ganzi, a predominantly Tibetan prefecture in
Sichuan province, is accused of illegally
possessing weapons, his Beijing-based lawyer Li
Fangping told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Li said the monk was forced into making a
confession after a police interrogation that
lasted four days and threats that his wife and
son would be detained if he did not comply.

The 52-year-old monk could be imprisoned for up
to 15 years if found guilty, Li said, adding he
was the first senior Buddhist leader to face a
serious charge linked to last year's demonstrations.

Rioting that broke out on March 14, 2008, led to
the most sustained Tibetan uprising against
Chinese rule in decades. Last year's violence in
Lhasa killed 22 people, according to Chinese officials.

Prosecutors allege a pistol and more than 100
bullets and cartridges were found under a bed in
Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche's living room during a
police raid, but the monk has denied the
allegation, saying he was framed, Li said.

"The charge is untenable," Li said. "Police
didn't ask him about the source of the weapons or check for fingerprints."

The monk also pleaded not guilty to a separate
charge of embezzlement involving a home for the
elderly he set up, the lawyer said.

Another Chinese court sentenced three people to
lengthy prison terms over deadly arson attacks
during the riots in Lhasa, state media reported Tuesday.

One was given the death penalty with a two-year
reprieve for helping to lead attacks on two
clothing stores that killed six people, the
official Xinhua News Agency said. Such sentences
are is usually commuted to life in prison.
Another was sentenced to life in prison and a third given 10 years.

Li said Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche was arrested May
18 last year just days after more than 80 nuns in
Ganzi held a demonstration against an official
campaign to impose "patriotic re-education" on
their convents, in which they were required to
denounce Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The International Campaign for Tibet, an activist
group, has described Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche as a
"deeply respected local figure known for his work
in the community" — including the building of a
center for the aged and two clinics — whose
detention has aroused deep resentment among local Tibetans.

The court has yet to set a date for its verdict,
Li said. Calls to the court rang unanswered late Tuesday.

A rugged, deeply Buddhist region filled with
monasteries and nunneries, Ganzi is known for its
strong Tibetan identity and has been at the
center of dissent for years. It saw some of the
most violent protests last spring.

State media says more than 950 people were
detained after the rioting and dozens of people
sentenced for their part in the protests.

Beijing says the demonstrations were part of a
violent campaign by the exiled Tibetan Buddhist
leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters to
throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage last August's Beijing Olympics.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet fifty years ago
amid an uprising against Chinese rule, has denied
the charge and says he seeks only significant
autonomy for Tibet under continued Chinese rule.

Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.
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