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A Fifth Tibetan has been Sentenced to Death

April 27, 2009

Tibet Custom
April 24, 2009

A fifth Tibetan has been sentenced to death on
charges relating to arson on March 14 in Lhasa,
according to a report in the official press on April 21.

A report in English on China Daily online named
the Tibetan sentenced to death with a two year
reprieve as Penkyi of Sakya county in Shigatse.
Penkyi and two other Tibetans were found guilty
of starting a fatal fire in a Lhasa clothing shop
that resulted in the deaths of five shop employees.

Mary Beth Markey, Vice President for Advocacy at
the International Campaign for Tibet said: "There
is no evidence that these young women were
granted a fair trial and proper legal access in
accordance with China's own laws, rendering these
sentences intolerable by the international
community." Penkyi, identified by the Tibetan
Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) as
a female from Sakya county, Shigatse (Chinese:
Xigaze) prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region
(TAR), received a death sentence with a two year
reprieve, signaling that if she commits no
serious crimes for two years of imprisonment, the
death sentence will be commuted to life.

A second defendant, also named Penkyi, a 23-year
old female from Nyemo (Chinese: Nimo) county,
Lhasa municipality, TAR, was sentenced to life
imprisonment. The third defendant, Chime, a
20-year old female from Namling (Chinese:
Nanmulin) county, Shigatse prefecture, TAR, was given a ten year sentence.

This new announcement one year on from the March
rioting in Lhasa follows the sentencing of four
Tibetans to death, two of whom were given a two
year reprieve, also on charges relating to
"starting fatal fires" by the Lhasa Intermediate
People's Court announced on April 8

These are the first known death sentences passed
against Tibetans in connection with the Lhasa
riots on March 14, 2008. One other Tibetan was
given a life sentence, with five Tibetans being
charged in total in three separate court cases
involving arson announced on April 8, reportedly
involving the deaths of seven people, according
to the state media. In the verdict announced on
April 21, the China Daily article stated that
"the court showed leniency on the two Penkyis,"
who were accused of leading the arsons, because
they "had turned themselves in to police."

The three were tried by the Lhasa Intermediate
People's Court, where they were "provided with
Tibetan language interpreters," according to the
China Daily. Due to the authorities' attempts to
block all information flow it was not possible to
confirm details about the case or about the
evidence against the three women, nor to
authenticate rumors circulating in Lhasa about the case.

Despite a court spokesman's assurances that the
trials "had been open and strictly abided by the
Criminal Procedure Law of the People's Republic
of China," serious concerns remain about the
fairness of the procedures and the treatment of
detainees in custody prior to sentencing. While
China Daily reported that the three defendants
had attorneys who "expressed their arguments in
full," and on April 23 Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that the "defendants
could commission their own lawyers to defend
them; and for those who did not, lawyers were
assigned to defend them according to the law,".

Evidence following earlier trials of Tibetans
points to Tibetans being denied the right to be
represented by the lawyer of their choice due to
the highly political nature of the cases, with
several lawyers being threatened with disbarment
if they attempted to represent detained Tibetans.
(See 'China: Rights Lawyers Face Disbarment
Threats: Intimidation Overshadows Reforms to Law
on Lawyers,' May 20, 2009, Human Rights Watch, 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.
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