BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court jailed 30 people for terms ranging from three years to life on Tuesday for their roles in Tibet’s deadly riots, which triggered anti-China protests across the globe ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
China has blamed Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile for plotting the riots, in which at least 18 “innocent civilians”, according to Beijing, were killed by Tibetan mobs in the regional capital, Lhasa, last month.
Lhasa Intermediate People’s Court announced the verdicts at an “open trial” that lasted all day and was attended by more than 200 people, including Buddhist monks, medical workers and “masses from all walks of life”, state media said.
It was the first batch of sentences announced since the March 14 violence and a Chinese crackdown that led to protests and disruption of the global Olympic torch relay, most notably in London, Paris and San Francisco.
Crowds of Chinese waved red national flags and cheered the Olympic torch in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, the last international leg of its harried journey around the world.
Seven schools, five hospitals and 120 homes were set ablaze and 908 shops were looted in the violence, the state news agency Xinhua said. Total damage was more than 244 million yuan ($35 million).
Three people were sentenced to life — 30 year-old businessman Cering, a monk named Basang and Soi’nam Cering, a driver with a Lhasa real estate company who Xinhua had previously identified as Soi’nam Norbu, the court was quoted as saying.
It said Soi’nam Cering, born in 1988, joined mobs which burnt vehicles in a square near the Johkang Monastery, smashed police stations and fire engines with stones, and assaulted firemen.
“He was convicted of arson and disrupting public services,” the court said in a press release.
Basang, a monk from Doilungdeqen County in Lhasa, led a group of 10 people — including five monks who were all sentenced to at least 15 years in jail. They destroyed the local government office, smashed or burnt down 11 shops, stole valuables and attacked policemen, it said.
Businessman Cering had incited others to loot shops and burn vehicles and buildings in his home county some 70 km (45 miles) outside Lhasa, during riots on March 15 and 16, the court said.
Some Western politicians have urged world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics, a sentiment echoed by a Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
The European Parliament has also urged EU leaders to stay away from the opening ceremony unless China starts talks with the Dalai Lama.
Seemingly bowing to international pressure, Beijing said last Friday that it would hold talks with envoys of the spiritual leader.
When asked about progress, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she had few details.
“As far as I know, issues relating to dialogue and contact are still to be discussed,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Grant McCool in Hanoi; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by John Chalmers)
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