by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 31, 2013
A Chinese court convicted two Tibetans of murder on Thursday for inciting others to burn themselves to death, giving one a suspended death penalty and the other 10 years in prison, state media reported.
The judgments were believed to be the first of their kind since judicial authorities were told to charge with intentional murder those accused of encouraging or helping others to carry out the gruesome act.
In a similar case in a different province another six ethnic Tibetans were sentenced to between three and 12 years, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
But analysts said such prosecutions were unlikely to end the immolations.
Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in apparent protest against Beijing's rule, which critics say represses Tibetan religious rights and erodes their culture as more majority ethnic Han move to Tibetan areas.
According to the Tibetan government in exile, 83 of them have died.
Beijing seeks to blame the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, for the deaths.
Lorang Konchok, 40, and his nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, "incited and coerced eight people to self-immolate, resulting in three deaths", Xinhua said, citing the court in the Tibetan-majority prefecture of Aba, in Sichuan province in the south.
Lorang Konchok, who was also accused of working with a media liaison at what prosecutors called an overseas Tibet independence group, was condemned to death with a two-year reprieve, which is often commuted to life in prison.
Five of the people recruited by the two defendants ultimately decided not to set themselves on fire, "after willfully abandoning their plans or after police intervened", Xinhua reported.
The second case, in the northwestern province of Gansu, involved six people convicted "for their roles in a local villager's self-immolation in October", it said, without specifying the precise offence.
China might be using the threat of criminal prosecution to try to deter such acts, Steve Tsang, a China expert at the University of Nottingham in Britain, but added that he doubted if such tactics would work or be carried out properly.
"They do want to stop it," he said. But "to stop something drastic from happening, you have to understand why people are doing it and you have to remove the cause of why people are doing it".
Beijing tightened its already firm grip on Tibet and neighbouring regions after massive protests erupted in March 2008, sending in reinforcements and cracking down on those suspected of creating dissent or fomenting unrest.
Talks between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, who denies any separatist aims, have stalled in recent years.
China rejects criticism of its governance in Tibetan areas, pointing instead to huge ongoing investment that it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.
"The sentencing in these cases today also amply demonstrates this backdrop of incitement and abetting," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Thursday, saying the "Dalai clique" had a role in self-immolations.
"We hope that through the trial of such cases, the international community can see the role of the Dalai clique behind self-immolations and all of these treacherous and malicious means, and condemn their crimes."
But Tsang questioned whether the convicted men's actions truly amounted to murder or even assisted suicide, and whether their trial had been fair.
"There's no way of knowing if those claims are true or not," he said of the charges. "The only way it can be found out is through an open trial with members of a jury."
China News from SinoDaily.com
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