Published: December 13, 2012
BEIJING — A Chinese court has sentenced eight Tibetan students to prison for their role in street protests last month that unnerved security forces already coping with a wave of self-immolations, many of them by young people who have become increasingly radicalized in their opposition to Chinese policies in the region, a Washington-based advocacy group reported on Wednesday.
According to the group, the International Campaign for Tibet, the students, from a predominantly Tibetan part of Qinghai Province, were sentenced to five-year terms on Dec. 5 for organizing demonstrations in response to government booklets that vilified the self-immolators and disparaged the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
The group said news of the verdicts was based on a Tibetan exile with contacts in the region. Local government officials reached by telephone on Thursday declined to comment.
Word of the trials and convictions comes amid a growing crisis for Beijing as it tries to stop the surge in self-immolations that began more than two years ago. So far, nearly 100 people in Tibetan areas of the country have set themselves on fire, nearly a third of them since November. The majority have been in their teens and 20s.
The authorities have responded harshly, locking down some monasteries, requiring Buddhist monks to attend “political education” classes and issuing new regulations that criminalize any act seen as encouraging the protests. Earlier this week, the official Xinhua news agency said a Tibetan monk and his nephew had been detained for their role in eight self-immolations.
The student demonstrations in Tsolho Prefecture, known in Chinese as Hainan, began late last month after the authorities distributed the pamphlets. Infuriated by several passages, students from the Tsolho Professional Training School marched to a government building chanting slogans that called for “freedom” and Tibetan language rights, according to Radio Free Asia.
At one point, some protesters burned the pamphlets, drawing a violent response from paramilitary police who arrested a number of participants. “They beat up the students, hurled tear gas at them and there was also some kind of explosive used on the student crowd,” according to an account published by Radio Free Asia, quoting a local source. More than 20 students were injured, several critically, the report said.
Although the literature was designed in part to convince local students to support bilingual education, it also took aim at the Dalai Lama, calling him a “political itinerant who wants to split the Chinese Motherland.” It also described the self-immolators as puppets controlled by “foreign imperialist forces.”
Kate Saunders, communications director for the International Campaign for Tibet, said such protests, including a series of student-led demonstrations last month in a nearby city, Rebkong, underscored the intense antipathy young people feel toward Chinese educational policies, which often emphasize Mandarin over Tibetan.
“This is a new political moment in Tibet, with a new generation prepared to directly confront the authorities despite the risks,” Ms. Saunders said. “But it seems the authorities have no strategy other than oppression and as we can see it is not working.”
She said that at least 18 students from the school remained in police custody in addition to three monks who have been accused of sending news of the protests to the outside world.
Mia Li contributed research
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