PRAGUE – On April 8, two Tibetans, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak, were sentenced to death by the Municipal Intermediate People’s Court in Lhasa. Both men were convicted of committing arson that caused death against Chinese owned businesses. Another two Tibetan activists, Tenzin Phuntsok and Kangtsuk, received a suspended death sentence, and a third, Dawa Sangpo was sentenced by the same court to life imprisonment.
These latest verdicts are the first death sentences meted out by Chinese courts to those who took part in protests that swept Lhasa and other Tibetan cities in the spring of 2008. Since these trials took place in complete isolation from the rest of the world, with no impartial observers or foreign journalists present, it is to be doubted, strongly, that the defendants received anything remotely like a fair trial in accordance with international judicial standards.
We therefore appeal to the authorities of the People’s Republic of China to rescind the decision to execute these protesters, and to provide them with an opportunity to be re-tried in a judicial process that is more in keeping with the international standards that China says that it adheres to. And the first standard that must be met is that the trial, first of all, must be verifiable and open to international observation.
But beyond the grim fates of the Tibetans that have now been sentenced by the Tibetan court to death or life imprisonment for the protests that took place a year ago, we are also concerned about the hundreds of other detained protesters who have yet to be tried by the Municipal Court in Lhasa. Indeed, it is our belief that the recent death sentences could mark the onset of an avalanche of highly doubtful Court rulings in Tibet, which could lead to a worrying number of executions in that tense and troubled region.
If China is to gain an international position of respect commensurate with its position in the world economy, as well as to benefit from its rise to pre-eminence among the world economic powers, it is vital that China’s representatives in Tibet acknowledge the need for due legal process for all of its citizens, including its ethnic minorities.
Tied to that sense of due process of law is a call for the Chinese leadership to allow representatives of the international community to have access to Tibet and its adjoining provinces. For these provinces have now been, for the most part, cut off from international observation ever since the protests that wracked Tibet last spring.
Only by making its rule in Tibet more transparent for the rest of the world can the government of the People’s Republic of China dispel the dark shadows of suspicion that now hang over Tibet. Only by allowing an international presence to report, dispassionately and truthfully, on what is happening in Tibet, will China’s government dispel the idea that its continued rule there means that even more severe human rights abuses will be inflicted on members of China’s ethnic minorities.