Tibetan gets suspended death sentence for riots

BEIJING — A court in Lhasa has given a Tibetan a suspended death sentence for taking part in riots that erupted in the remote Himalayan region two years ago, an overseas Tibetan rights group said.

The Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement late Wednesday that the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Sonam Tsering, 23, to death with a two-year reprieve on Tuesday. Such sentences are usually commuted to life in prison.

It said Sonam Tsering is the seventh Tibetan so far to be sentenced to death for the riots, including two already executed.

Rioting that broke out in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, left 22 people dead and led to the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades.

Beijing says the demonstrations were part of a violent campaign organized by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August 2008.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet 50 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.

The Lhasa court on Tuesday also ordered jail terms of between three and seven years for five other Tibetans convicted of harboring Sonam Tsering in their homes following the riots and helping him prepare to flee abroad, it said. He disappeared after the riots but was arrested 17 months later in October last year, it said.

Sonam Tsering was born in Ganzi, a predominantly Tibetan prefecture in southwest China’s Sichuan province. He made a pilgrimage to Lhasa in 2007, then stayed on, the center said.

The center reported that the Lhasa court heard that he rioted and led others to riot by setting cars and shops on fire and overturning police vehicles. While standing on top of a police vehicle, he wielded a knife in the air and loudly shouted anti-government slogans, it said.

Lhasa government and court officials refused to confirm the ruling and said they had no knowledge of the case.

A female Tibetan staff member who answered the phone at the Communist Party Propaganda Office in Lhasa said she didn’t know about the case. She gave her name as Sola — many Tibetans use just one name.

Two women reached by phone at the Lhasa court said they had not heard about the case. Both refused to give their names.

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