Tibetan monks sentenced in self-immolation case

Chinese officials have sentenced three Tibetan monks to long prison terms for helping another monk burn himself to death in a political protest.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the dead monk's uncle, Drongdru, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "intentional homicide" because he hid his nephew, Phuntsog, and kept him from receiving medical treatment.

Tibetan exile groups told the Times that two other monks, in a separate trial, received sentences of 10 and 13 years in prison on Tuesday for "plotting, instigating and assisting" the young monk with his self-immolation.

"This is a whole new turn in the way the Chinese state deals with protest. We haven't seen this serpentine use of the law before," Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University, told the Times. "This is going to be seen by Tibetans as a manipulation of the law to intimidate people further."

Phuntsog set himself on fire in March, and was hidden in the Kirti monastary in Sichuan afterward to prevent his being taken by the police. The incident led to several weeks of clashes between Chinese and Tibetans.

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, run by Tibetan exiles in India, have released statements condemning the rulings. On Monday, after Drongdru was sentenced, the center said it viewed "such false charges and accusation of murder as unjust."

"The self immolation of monk Phuntsog drew much international attention to the grave human rights situation in Tibet," the statement said. "Such unfortunate incident was a result of desperation and an act to protest repressive Chinese policies in Tibet."

According to the Times, self-immolation has become relatively rare among Tibetan monks because the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, condemns the practice.