Fifth Tibetan sentenced to death by Chinese court

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Grave concerns that unsound evidence presented against Tibetans in trials closed to independent observers

A Chinese court has sentenced a Tibetan to death with a two year reprieve after finding him guilty of starting a fire in a clothes shop inLhasa on March 14 last year which led to the death of the shop owner, according to the official Xinhua news agency in an online article today. Xinhua cited an article today in the official Tibet Daily newspaper which named the Tibetan as Penkyi of Sagya county (1).

The same article stated that two other Tibetans had received lengthy sentences for their involvement in helping Penkyi to start a fire in a second shop which led to the deaths of five shop employees, according to Xinhua: Penkyi of Nyinmo county and Chime were sentenced to life imprisonment and ten years respectively.

The Xinhua article implied that the Tibetan, Penkyi, who was sentenced to death is male but photos which appeared on the website of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy indicated that all three that were sentenced are female.

Xinhua did not give a date for the sentences which were passed by the Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court. In separate cases the same court on April 8 sentenced a further two Tibetans to death and another two Tibetans to death each with a two year reprieve (2).

The trials and sentences relate to incidents in Lhasa last year which quickly developed into widespread protests which swept across the Tibetan Plateau, demonstrating Tibetans’ emphatic rejection of Chinese policies and repression in Tibet over decades. Last year’s protests were overwhelmingly peaceful but there were individual cases of violence against Chinese-owned businesses in Lhasa, including arson cases, which should be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with international judicial standards.

Free Tibet does not believe that the trials and sentences announced by Xinhua today, nor those announced on April 8, came close to being prosecuted in accordance with international judicial standards. Information regarding these cases is available only from the Chinese government-controlled news sources and access to Tibet has been severely restricted since last year’s protests, making it impossible for the details of these cases, and others, to be independently verified. Free Tibet is especially concerned that evidence presented in the prosecution of these arson cases is likely to be unsound: in reporting on April 8 the two year reprieve on one of the Tibetans sentenced to death, Tenzin Phuntsog, Xinhua stated that the judges had taken into account his “ positive attitude in admitting his crime after he was arrested”. But last November the UN Committee Against Torture stated its concern “…of routine and widespread use of torture… especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings” and “Continued reliance on confessions as a common form of evidence for prosecution…” (3)

Concerns regarding the lack of due process in recent sentencing go beyond the routine use of torture as a means of collecting evidence. Free Tibet has documented a series of cases in which Tibetans have not been afforded the legal safeguards provided for in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese Criminal Procedure Law or in customary international law, including access to legal counsel. For example in October 2008, 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, the monks were denied all access to legal counsel 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. The court only acknowledged the sentences passed on the Kyabe monks after it was contacted by the Associated Press.

Free Tibet has recently written to Minister of State at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Bill Rammell, urging the British government to call on the Chinese government to reverse the death sentences passed on April 8 due to concerns regarding unsound evidence(4). The letter also called on the British government to secure guarantees “that all trials of Tibetans are held in open court, with legal safeguards met, and that consular staff and foreign journalists be allowed to attend such court proceedings, where requested.” No response has been received to date. International figures to have spoken out against the death sentences so far include former Czech President, Vaclav Havel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (5).

Free Tibet spokesperson, Matt Whitticase, said:

“The rush of death sentences recently announced could become an avalanche unless international leaders and governments urgently express their grave concerns that international judicial standards have not been met in these cases. Ongoing silence for reasons of political expediency will only encourage China to act with ever greater impunity in its ongoing crackdown on all forms of dissent in Tibet”.


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 article is available at:

(2) Free Tibet’s press release on the April 8 sentences is available at:

(3) Paragraph 11. CAT/C/CHN/CO/4 21 November 2008 from the conclusions of the UN Committee Against Torture following the fourth periodic review of China’s record on torture. The full text of the Committee’s conclusions is available at:

(4) Free Tibet’s open letter to Minister of State, Bill Rammell, is available at:

(5) An opinion piece, signed by Havel and Tutu, which appeared in The Guardian and which calls for the death sentences to be reversed is available at: