BEIJING, (AFP) – China has sentenced three Tibetan monks to 12 years in prison for painting a Tibetan flag and possessing photographs of the exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama, rights groups says.
The three monks are from the Khangmar monastery in Kakhog county — or Hongyuan county in Chinese — in the Ngaba prefecture of southwest China’s Sichuan province, which borders Tibet.
A report, commissioned by the Australia Tibet Council, Free Tibet Campaign and the International Campaign for Tibet, identified the monks as Choedar Dargye, Gedun Thogphel and Jampa Choephel.
Two other Khangmar monks, Migyur Gyatso and Jamyang Oezer, are awaiting sentencing. Jamyang Oezer is reportedly ill and in hospital, the report said.
The London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN) earlier said all five Tibetans had been sentenced in late August, along with one other monk, to prison terms of between one and 12 years for distributing material calling for Tibet’s independence.
Police confiscated a large number of pictures of the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan flag after they raided the room in the monastery of one of the arrested monks, TIN said.
Local police refused to comment Thursday. Court officials could not immediately be reached.
The sentenced monks apparently held responsible positions at the monastery.
Photographs obtained by TIN show four of the Khangmar monks in a room with pictures of the Dalai Lama on the wall.
Many Tibetans still display pictures of the Dalai Lama in private, particularly in the Tibetan areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, formerly known as Amdo and Kham and now incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu, the report said.
The US State Department stated in its annual Report on International Religious Freedom released late last year that possession of pictures of the Dalai Lama appears to be on the rise, the rights groups said.
According to the same US State Department report, Chinese government officials maintain that possessing or displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama is not illegal.
However, Chinese officials distinguish between political and religious application of the exiled leader’s photograph.
Officials maintain that while it is acceptable for an individual to possess a photo of the Dalai Lama for the purpose of worshipping him as a religious figure, it is not acceptable if the photo is being used “to advocate separatism,” the report said.
China occupied Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in 1959 with thousands of supporters after an abortive revolt against Chinese rule.
China regularly accuses the 68-year-old monk of being a “separatist” and objects to his meetings with world leaders.