Rights activists yesterday criticized China for jailing a Tibetan lama for 11 years over the death of a young monk who set himself alight, with one calling his prosecution “purely political.”
A court in Sichuan on Monday convicted the lama for “intentional homicide” and said he had prevented the wounded monk from getting medical treatment, Xinhua news agency said.
The monk, Phuntsog, died in hospital after setting himself on fire on March 16, triggering protests and prompting a clampdown by authorities around the monastery in Sichuan’s mountainous Aba Prefecture.
The court’s verdict contradicted earlier assertions by rights groups that monks at the Kirti monastery had rescued Phuntsog from police who began to beat him after extinguishing the flames.
As a court prepared to try two more monks yesterday, Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said the cases were politically motivated.
“This is a patently unjust verdict at the outcome of a purely political prosecution,” he said.
“It comes against a background of unprecedented persecution against the monastery of Kirti, from where the government has already taken into arbitrary detention dozens of monks,” he said.
Kirti monastery has remained extremely tense since security forces shot dead several protesters in March 2008, Bequelin said.
“Sentencing a monk who appears to have only attempted to protect Phuntsog after his solitary act only compounds the agony for Kirti monks,” Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet said.
“By doing so the Chinese government aims to deflect attention from the real reasons for the self-immolation, which was an expression of anguish and sacrifice due to intense repression including new measures to suppress religious practice in Tibetan areas,” she said.
Xinhua reported that two more monks linked to the self-immolation would face trial yesterday after the Monday jailing of a monk named Drongdru.
The dead monk was a disciple and nephew of Drongdru, who kept him hidden for 11 hours before he was taken to hospital, where he later died, it said.
During the trial, Drongdru, 46, pleaded guilty to the charges, voiced regret for his role and declined his right to appeal, Xinhua said.
Calls to the Sichuan court went unanswered.
Phuntsog was the second monk at Kirti to set himself on fire since the anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa of March 2008, the bloodiest in Tibet in 20 years.
Xinhua said he was just 16 years old at the time of his death, though reports at the time varied, but the International Campaign for Tibet put the monk’s age at 20.
Earlier this month, another monk died by self-immolation in Sichuan.