Tibetans guilty of murder for 'inciting immolations'

File photo: Monks in Sichuan province China denies accusations that it is blocking religious freedom in Tibet

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A Tibetan monk has received a suspended death sentence and his nephew 10 years in jail for inciting eight people to self-immolate, Chinese state media say.

Lorang Konchok, 40, and Lorang Tsering, 31, were found guilty of "intentional homicide" by the court in Sichuan province, Xinhua news agency said.

Tibetan activists had said the men were forced to confess to the charges.

Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, many fatally, in apparent protest at Chinese rule.

Most of the self-immolations have taken place in ethnic Tibetan areas outside Tibet.

Many have involved Buddhist monks or nuns calling, Tibetan activist groups say, for greater religious freedom and the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Foreign media are banned from the region, making verifying the self-immolation cases difficult. Chinese state media have confirmed some but not all.

New laws

Loran Konchok was based at Kirti monastery in Aba prefecture, an area in Sichuan province that has been a focal point for self-immolations.

The court in Aba prefecture ruled that he and his nephew had "incited and coerced eight people to self-immolate, resulting in three deaths", said Xinhua.

The Tibet Divide

  • China says Tibet has always been part of its territory
  • Tibet had long periods of autonomy
  • China launched a military assault in 1950
  • Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959
  • Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India
  • Dalai Lama now advocates a "middle way" with Beijing, seeking autonomy but not independence

The other five people either chose not to carry out the act or were stopped by police before they could go ahead.

The elder Lorang was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve - a sentence which is usually commuted to life imprisonment - and stripped of his political rights for life, while the younger lost his rights for three years.

In December Xinhua reported that the men had confessed to the charges, saying they had recorded details of the protesters, gathered photographs and passed them on to exile groups in India.

The Tibetan government-in-exile denied any involvement and said the men had been "forced to make these confessions".

The sentences are believed to be the first since a legal ruling stipulating that anyone aiding immolations would be charged with murder.

Activist groups and the Tibetan government-in-exile say the self-immolations are protests against tight Chinese control of the region and religious repression.

But Beijing says Tibet as a region is getting wealthier and that Tibetans have religious freedom.

China's leaders blame the Dalai Lama for inciting the self-immolations and encouraging Tibetan separatism, a charge he strongly rejects.

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