BEIJING - A Chinese court commuted the death sentence imposed on a Tibetan monk to life imprisonment, the government announced yesterday, in a case closely watched by human rights groups.
Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche was convicted in 2002 of a series of bombings in an area of southwestern China near Tibet and given a death sentence that was suspended for two years.
Activists have argued that the case was trumped up, pointing to a lack of evidence or proper legal procedures and the improbability that Tenzin Deleg would do such a thing given his calling and philosophy.
"Seeing China sentence a Tibetan to death is not new," said Tsering Jampa, Amsterdam, Netherlands-based executive director of the International Campaign for Tibet. "What really shocked us, though, was that a Buddhist leader would be charged with a bombing. For a Buddhist, this just can't be true, and showed us the magnitude of their control and repression."
Activists said they believe Beijing opted for a more lenient course in part because of the pressure from overseas governments, human rights groups and other foreigners who brought attention to the case.
The monk's imprisonment and harsh sentence was the subject of significant international focus in part because he was seen as a new kind of Tibetan activist. He didn't directly challenge China's authority, call for independence or push for pluralism. Rather, he sought to exert pressure from the bottom up, spurring calls for more environmental awareness, education reform and respect for Tibetan culture and tradition.
"I think a lot of people hoped there was space there to operate in a politically nonconfrontational way," said Brad Adams, Asia director with Human Rights Watch. "Yet he still crossed some arbitrary, unknown line."
Lobsang Tenpa, a Buddhist monk who worked and studied with Tenzin Deleg during the 1980s, declared the case a sham, saying the monk is a peaceful man and a follower of the Dalai Lama who would never resort to violence.
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