China’s state media today morning announced that 17 Tibetans have been sentenced between three years to life imprisonment in connection with the Lhasa revolt in March 2008. It is the first instance of a group of Tibetans handed down with harsh prison terms since protests broke out in Lhasa and various Tibetan areas under Chinese administration beginning from 10 March 2008. The state media did not reveal whether the current group of Tibetans sentenced to harsh terms were part of those who gave in before the official surrender deadline issued by the authorities.

The Xinhua report stated, “Two men, including a Buddhist monk identified as Basang (Passang), received life sentences… Basang was accused of leading 10 people, including five other monks, to destroy local government offices, burn down shops and attack policemen… Of the five monks, two were sentenced to 20 years, and the other three to 15 years in jail.” “The other man who received a life sentence was identified as Soi’nam Norbu (Sonam Norbu), a driver for a Lhasa real estate company”. No details were given on the 10 other people sentenced.

The Chinese authorities have arbitrarily arrested thousands of Tibetans following the pan-Tibet protests in March 2008. While the official media claims 2300 Tibetan protesters were arrested, The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) fears the actual number of arrests can be manifold.

On several occasions, the “Tibet Autonomous Region” (“TAR”) Communist Party and Government officials have called for a swift and quick judicial process to strike back at the “separatists” and the “Dalai clique”. On 4 April 2008, Lhasa City Deputy Party Secretary said that amongst the protesters arrested in Lhasa, 800 Tibetans would be brought before the court. During a conference of “TAR” court officials in the evening of 2 April 2008, “TAR” government Vice-Chairman, Pema Thinley, urged “the usage of law as a tool to strike back at the enemies”. He called for a “swift and quick judicial proceedings” for those involved in March protest. Jampa Phuntsok, during his briefing at the Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China on 9 April told reporters “953 have been arrested out of which 328 have been released where as 403 will be carried forward for sentencing by the court.”

There are currently thousands of Tibetan protesters under detention in Tibetan areas outside the “TAR”. In the aftermath of the mass uprising by the Tibetan people, Chinese People’s Armed Police and Public Security Bureau officials arrested thousands of Tibetans particularly from Kardze (Ch: Ganzi), Ngaba (Ch: Aba), Sangchu (Ch: Xiahe) and Kanlho (Ch: Gansu).

In the absence of any independent media and monitoring agencies in Tibet and the use of judicial proceedings as an official reprisal instead of protection of fundamental human rights of the Tibetans, TCHRD expresses its concern at the sub-standard legal proceedings in Chinese occupied Tibet and fears the worst scenarios for the Tibetan protesters last month who exercised their fundamental human rights of freedom of opinion and expression.