China sentences two to death for alleged role in starting fires in Lhasa protests

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A court in Lhasa has sentenced “two people” to death for “starting fatal fires” in Lhasa in March last year, according to a report issued today by the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua (1). The same report stated that “two others” received death sentences each with a two year reprieve, and that another received a life sentence. The Xinhua report does not state the exact nature of the charges, nor when sentencing was passed; the report stated that the five had been tried in three separate arson cases.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) has named those sentenced as Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak (death sentence); Tenzin Phuntsok and Kangtsuk to suspended death sentence(for 2 years); and Dawa Sangpo (life imprisonment).

Today’s reported death sentences are the first that are known to have been passed in Tibet since 2002(2) and are therefore the first death sentences to have been passed on people for their alleged role in protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau last year.

Free Tibet has gathered information from inside Tibet that demonstrates that recent trials of Tibetans for their alleged role in last year’s protests have been conducted in secrecy and in the absence of even the most basic level of legal oversight and due process. Last October Free Tibet reported lengthy sentences passed on eight monks from the Tibetan town of Kyabe for alleged bombing offences. According to reliable information received by Free Tibet from a well-placed source, the monks were denied all access to legal counsel and family from the time of arrest to sentencing. The trial of the monks was conducted in camera according to the source and the nature of the charges and eventual sentencing of the monks were not made public by the court (3). These measures, and the failure of the court to inform even family members of the sentences, contravene legal safeguards incorporated into the Chinese constitution and the criminal justice system. The court only acknowledged the sentences passed on the Kyabe monks after it was contacted by the Associated Press (4).

Despite restrictions on the amount of time detainees can be held in China without charge, the legal status and whereabouts of more than 1000 Tibetans detained in the aftermath of last year’s protests remain unaccounted for by the Chinese authorities (5). The highly respected US Congressional Executive Committee on China (CECC) last year cited official Chinese sources as reporting that, by June 21 2008, the Chinese authorities had released 3072 of 4434 persons arrested following the outbreak of protests in Tibet on March 10. China has consistently refused to account for the more than 1000 Tibetans that remained in detention (6).

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), Tibetan monks in Xining in Qinghai province recently staged a peaceful sit-in protest in front of the Xining City High People's Court. According to TCHRD the monks held aloft a banner calling for the court to conduct fair judicial proceedings in accordance with the law (7).

Free Tibet spokesperson, Matt Whitticase, said:

“Free Tibet strongly condemns imposition of the death penalty in all circumstances. Today’s report of the imposition of the death penalties in two cases is of huge concern in the light of evidence that has continued to emerge from Tibet since last year which clearly shows that politically-motivated cases against Tibetans are being mounted in the complete absence of even the most basic legal oversight and due process. In view of China’s ongoing refusal to respect basic legal norms Free Tibet repeats its call for world leaders to break their silence on Tibet. As an absolute minimum, international governments should be demanding immediate access to Chinese courts in Tibet for their consular staff based in Beijing as well as the re-opening of Tibet to the international media.”


For further information:

Matt Whitticase, External Communications: t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7515 788456 or email:

Stephanie Brigden, Director: t +44 (0)20 7324 4605 / +44 (0)7530 528264 or email

Notes to Editor:

(1) The Xinhua report is available at:

(2) The death penalty is last known to have been passed in Tibet in 2002. Tibetan monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and a colleague, Lobsang Dhondup, were sentenced to death in December 2002. Dhondup was executed in January 2003 while Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment following a high-profile international campaign. More information is available via Free Tibet’s website at:

(3) Free Tibet’s full report on the sentencing of the Kyabe monks is available at:

(4) AP’s report:

(5) Free Tibet’s report on Tibet’s missing 1000 is available at:

(6) The full CECC report is available at:

(7) TCHRD’s report on the court protest is available at: