On April 8, two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak, were sentenced to death by the Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Lhasa.
Both men were convicted of committing arson that caused death against Chinese-owned businesses.
Another two Tibetan activists, Tenzin Phuntsok and Kangtsuk, received suspended death sentences, and a third, Dawa Sangpo, was sentenced by the same court to life imprisonment.
These latest verdicts are the first death sentences to be meted out by Chinese courts to those who took part in protests that swept Lhasa and other Tibetan cities in the spring of last year.
Since these trials took place in complete isolation from the rest of the world, with no impartial observers or foreign journalists present, it is to be doubted, strongly, that the defendants received anything remotely like a fair trial in accordance with international judicial standards.
We therefore appeal to the authorities of the People’s Republic of China to rescind the decision to execute these protesters, and to provide them with an opportunity to be re-tried in a judicial process that is more in keeping with the international standards that China says it adheres to.
The first standard that must be met is that the trial must be verifiable and open to international observation.
Beyond the grim fates of the Tibetans, we are also concerned about the hundreds of other detained protesters who have yet to be tried by the Municipal Court in Lhasa.
Indeed, it is our belief that the recent death sentences could mark the onset of an avalanche of highly doubtful court rulings in Tibet, which could lead to a worrying number of executions in that tense and troubled region.
If China is to gain an international position of respect commensurate with its position in the world economy, as well as to benefit from its rise to pre-eminence among the world economic powers, then it is vital that China’s representatives in Tibet acknowledge the need for due legal process for all of its citizens, including its ethnic minorities.
Tied to that sense of due process of law is a call for the Chinese leadership to allow representatives of the international community to have access to Tibet and its adjoining provinces.
For these provinces have now been, for the most part, cut off from international observation ever since the protests that wracked Tibet last spring.
Only by making its rule in Tibet more transparent for the rest of the world can the government of the People’s Republic of China dispel the dark shadows of suspicion that now hang over Tibet.
Only by allowing an international presence to report, dispassionately and truthfully, on what is happening in Tibet, will China’s government dispel the idea that its continued rule there means that even more severe human rights abuses will be inflicted on members of China’s ethnic minorities.
Vaclav Havel is a former president of the Czech Republic; Prince Hassan Bin Talal is president of the Arab Thought Forum; Desmond Tutu, a Nobel peace prize laureate, is Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town; Vartan Gregorian is a former president of Brown University and president of the Carnegie Council; and Yohei Sasakawa is a Japanese philanthropist.
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