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Beijing – Eight Buddhist monks convicted of bombing a government building in Tibet during an anti-government uprising in March have been sentenced to prison, two of them for life, a judge said Tuesday.
The monks were sentenced at the People’s Court in Chamdo, a Tibetan prefecture, after being convicted of setting off a bomb at the building in Gyanbe township, said Gang Weilai, the judge who presided over the case. Gyanbe is about 855 miles (1,375 kilometers) east of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, where peaceful protests against Chinese rule erupted into violence in March.
Gyurmey Dhondup and Kalsang Tsering were sentenced to life in prison while the others received sentences of between five and 15 years, Gang said in a telephone interview. He said the monks did not appeal their sentences.
“We were first going to charge them with the crime of separating the nation, but eventually the charge was changed to the crime of causing an explosion,” Gang said, declining to explain the decision. Gang referred all questions to the Supreme Court, the country’s highest court. Telephones were not answered at the court Tuesday afternoon.
Mo Shaoping, a Beijing-based lawyer, said separatism is considered a threat to national security and would usually be a more serious charge, although it depended on the specifics of the case.
Chinese state media have said eight monks from the Tongxia monastery in eastern Tibet confessed to planting a homemade bomb that exploded at a government building in Gyanbe township on March 23. No casualties or damage were reported in the blast.
China launched a massive crackdown in Tibet and a broad swath of Tibetan-inhabited regions in the country’s west after demonstrations that began peacefully on March 10 among Buddhist monks in Lhasa spiraled into violence four days later.
Beijing claims the protests were part of a violent campaign by Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters to throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.
The Dalai Lama has denied involvement in violent acts and said he only wants greater autonomy for the remote mountain region.
Beijing says 22 people were killed in the riots, in which hundreds of shops were torched and Chinese civilians attacked. The Dalai Lama’s India-based government-in-exile has said at least 140 people died. More than 1,000 people were detained, although human rights groups say the number could be higher.
Many Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.
The London-based Free Tibet Campaign cited a source as saying that from the time of their arrest until their sentencing, the monks accused in the Gyanbe bombing were denied access to family and lawyers and that legal proceedings against them were “shrouded in secrecy.”
The group said the monks were sentenced on Sept. 23, but it was not made public, a common practice in China for sensitive cases. Gang, the judge, refused to specify the date, saying only it happened “a few days ago.”
“This case, like so many others in Tibet, demonstrates the urgent need for international media and independent agencies to be allowed immediate and free access to all areas of Tibet to investigate the accounts of arbitrary detention and abuse of Tibetans that continue to emerge,” the group’s director, Stephanie Brigden, said in a statement.
Associated Press
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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