- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese court has sentenced three people to lengthy prison terms over deadly arson attacks during last year’s rioting in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, state media reported Tuesday.

One suspect, Penkyi, was given the death penalty with a two-year reprieve for helping to lead attacks on two clothing stores that killed six people, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Such sentences are is usually commuted to life in prison.

Another suspect, also named Penkyi, was sentenced to life in prison by the Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People’s Court. A third, Chimed, was given 10 years in prison. Many Tibetans use just one name.

Last year’s violence in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, killed 22 people, according to Chinese officials. Rioting that broke out on March 14 led to the most sustained uprising against Chinese rule in decades. State media says more than 950 people have been detained in the ensuing crackdown and dozens of people sentenced for their part in the protests.

Reached by telephone, a clerk at the Lhasa court, who refused to give his name, declined to answer questions about the sentences, saying he was too busy.

Xinhua, citing what it said was a report in the Tibet Daily newspaper, did not say how long the trials had taken or when the sentences were handed down. It said the two Penkyis had received leniency because they had turned themselves in to authorities.

Quoting an unidentified court spokesman, it said the trials had been open to the public and held in accordance with Chinese law, claims that could not be independently verified. The defendants “were provided with Tibetan language interpreters and their attorneys had expressed their arguments in full,” Xinhua quoted the official as saying.

Earlier this month, the Lhasa court handed down death sentences to two Tibetans accused of starting deadly fires during the March riots. It gave suspended death sentences to two others and sentenced another to life imprisonment.

Foreigners must receive special government permission to visit Tibet and no outsiders are known to have been given access to the trials.

Supporters of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, have denounced the proceedings as less than fair and warned they may stir even greater resentment among Tibetans.

Beijing says the protests were part of a violent campaign by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage last August’s Beijing Olympics. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet fifty years ago amid an uprising against Chinese rule, has denied the charge and says he seeks only significant autonomy for Tibet under continued Chinese rule.

Last year’s riots broke out after several days of peaceful anti-government protests by Buddhist monks. Despite the heavy security presence in Lhasa, rioters attacked Chinese-owned shops and homes for hours with little opposition. As sympathy protests _ some of them violent _ swept over large swaths of Tibetan-populated areas of western China, authorities launched a massive crackdown that sealed off the region.

Tibetan supporters say the death toll in the protests and crackdown is in the dozens.

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