Activists say China is persecuting Buddhist monks in Tibet

Thursday, May 1, 2008

BEIJING -- China has stepped up persecution of Buddhist monks with mass detentions, Tibet activists said Wednesday, as China prepares to take the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest.

The actions came a day after six monks were given lengthy prison sentences in the first trial of rioters since deadly violence in Tibet's capital last month.

The International Campaign for Tibet said groups of Buddhist monks have been detained from several Lhasa monasteries, which have been sealed off by armed troops.

The Washington, D.C.-based group cited sources who reported that authorities removed at least six monks from the Nechung monastery, eight from Nalanda monastery and rounded up at least 60 people, including monks from Pangsa monastery, after a protest near Lhasa.

The group also quoted a source saying up to 100 monks were detained at Rongwu monastery in the neighboring province of Qinghai.

In addition, U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported two nuns in Sichuan province were detained for protesting.

There was no way of independently verifying either the activist group's claims or the radio report.

Mass anti-government riots and protests in Lhasa last month -- and the subsequent crackdown -- have drawn worldwide attention to China's human rights record and its rule in Tibet ahead of the Beijing Olympics, which start 100 days from Wednesday.

The activists' report of mass detentions came a day after a Chinese court in Lhasa sentenced 30 people, including six monks, to jail sentences ranging from three years to life for their involvement in riots that erupted in Lhasa on March 14.

Three were given life sentences, including a Buddhist monk. Xinhua said he was convicted of leading 10 people -- including five other monks -- to destroy local government offices, burn down shops and attack policemen. Of the other five monks, two were sentenced to 20 years, and the other three to 15 years in jail.

Xinhua also said a funeral was held Wednesday for Lama Cedain, a police officer shot dead Monday while trying to arrest a suspected riot leader in western Qinghai province.

Xinhua said police tracked down the suspect after a monthlong investigation into a riot on March 21. He resisted and was killed by other officers in a gunbattle Monday.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the one-day trials in Lhasa, saying the defendants "were tried on secret evidence behind closed doors and without the benefit of a meaningful defense by lawyers they'd chosen."

"Guilty or innocent, these Tibetans are entitled to a fair trial," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Wednesday.

The White House said it had seen the reports about the sentencing, and is concerned.

"We don't think that anyone should break the law, but we also believe in freedom of expression and assembly," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday.

The speedy trials are one sign that China is attempting to wrap up the punishment phase of its latest campaign to assert control in Tibet.

China has said 22 people died in the riots, while Tibet's government-in-exile said Tuesday it believes at least 203 Tibetans were killed in the ensuing crackdown.

The estimate was compiled from a combination of the government's own sources, Tibetan exile groups and official Chinese media. It was impossible to independently verify the information.

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