News / Asia

Tibetan Monks Face Chinese Justice in Self-Immolation Case

Exiled Tibetans light candles in front of portraits of 16-year-old monk Phuntsog, during a candlelit vigil to honor the monk who set himself on fire in an anti-government protest, in Dharmsala, India, March 16, 2011
Exiled Tibetans light candles in front of portraits of 16-year-old monk Phuntsog, during a candlelit vigil to honor the monk who set himself on fire in an anti-government protest, in Dharmsala, India, March 16, 2011
Ivan Broadhead

After the suicide earlier this year of a young Tibetan Buddhist monk, who killed himself in protest at Beijing’s restrictions on religious freedom, two more monks face a "politically-motivated" trial in China Tuesday.

Tenchum and Tsering Tenzin are charged with "instigating and assisting" the death of Rigzin Phuntsog.

The 16-year-old monk died March 16 after setting fire to himself at Kirti monastery in China’s Sichuan province, close to the Tibetan border.

Kirti’s Tibetan Buddhist monks have staged several open protests defying Beijing’s authority since March 2008, when the worst anti-Chinese protests in a generation were violently suppressed across China’s ethnically Tibetan regions.

Robert Barnett, a Tibetan analyst at New York’s Columbia University, says these prosecutions are unusual, even in Tibetan areas, where a formal charge means an almost certain conviction.

"This looks like the situation that we are seeing that local officials or maybe central officials have decided to make these cases as an example to deter other Tibetans to protest," he said.

Tuesday’s trial follows that of the deceased’s uncle, Drongdru, a lama at the monastery. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for intentional homicide after a day-long hearing Monday.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reports that Drongdru, 46, concealed his nephew for 11 hours after the suicide bid, preventing Phuntsog from accessing life-saving treatment.

Activists dispute this allegation, insisting that monks rescued Phuntsog from Chinese police, who began to assault him after extinguishing the fire.

"The trial is a clear escalation in terms of reprisals for cases of self-immolation [and] the first time we have heard of such an action by the government,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

In the past, most Tibetans involved in protests have been charged under state security laws. Tibet watchers say homicide charges mark a significant change in tactics by prosecutors that lead to longer prison sentences. Bequelin says this appears to be part of a broader effort by local officials to reign in the Kirti monastery.

"I think one of the objectives of this arrest is to break the spiritual back of Kirti, which has proven to be a very stubborn center of Tibetan identity and religiosity," he said. "Earlier this year, the government detained several hundred monks and disappeared them - essentially warehousing them in a government facility and carrying [out] political indoctrination."

At the time, Chinese officials said the monks needed to undergo “legal education” for disobeying Tibetan Buddhist rules and disrupting local order. Following protests from the United States and human rights groups over the detentions, Beijing officials called on critics to stop making "irresponsible remarks."

The trials follow a month of significant political change in Tibet affairs. Last week Beijing removed Zhang Qingli, the hardline Communist Party Secretary in Lhasa who ordered the 2008 crackdown.

Zhang’s successor, the former governor of Hebei province Chen Guoquan, vowed in his first speech in office “to resolutely carry on the Central Party’s instructions and policies regarding Tibet”.

Meanwhile the exiled Tibetan community elected Lobsang Sangay its new prime minister August 8.

"Of course, he has nowhere near the fame and respect that the Dalai Lama commands. Therefore it’s not clear how much political capital he can mobilize inside Tibet," said Bequelin.

The Harvard-educated lawyer is the first Tibetan leader to be born in exile, and is expected to assume many of the secular duties of the aging Dalai Lama. It is still unclear how China will ultimately react to the shifts in the Tibetan exile government.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs