Authorities in Tibet have released a man serving a 12-year prison term for “murder” in connection with the death of a fellow Tibetan who self-immolated in protest of Chinese rule, according to sources living in exile from the region with knowledge of the situation.
“Pema Dhondup has been under constant scrutiny since his release from prison on Aug. 31,” the source told RFA Tibetan, speaking on condition of anonymity citing security risks.
Dhondup, of Sangchu (in Chinese, Xiahe) county in Gansu province’s Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was freed from jail two years before the end of his sentence and received by family members, the source said.
“He was convicted of the murder of Dorje Rinchen who self-immolated to protest the Chinese government and died, although Pema Dhondup only took care of Rinchen’s body after the self-immolation,” he said.
“His release from the prison is confirmed but we don’t know about his health condition. From his looks and appearance, he seems to be fine.”
A second source in exile, who declined to be named, also confirmed Dhondup’s release and monitoring by authorities.
“The Chinese government has been keeping a close eye on Pema since his release,” the source said.
“Relatives who are visiting him are not allowed to take pictures or speak on the phone while they are in his house.”
Dhondup was among seven Tibetans sentenced in 2012 by the Sangchu County People’s Court to prison terms ranging from three to 12 years for their alleged involvement in an Oct. 23 protest that year in which Dorje Rinchen, a local villager, set himself on fire and died.
In addition to Dhondup, Padma Tamdru, Kelsang Gyamuktso, Padma Co, and Lhamo Tamdru were convicted of “intentional homicide” for their roles in blocking police efforts to “rescue” the self-immolator, state media said at the time, and were sentenced to 12, 11, eight, and seven years in jail, respectively.
Two other defendants, Do Gekyap and Yang Monje, were handed four and three-year terms respectively for “causing a chaotic scene” and disrupting local traffic following the burning, the report said.
The source in exile told RFA that the other six Tibetans who were arrested and charged along with Dhondup have all since been released, but “remain under scrutiny and restrictions” by local authorities.
Tibetan regions of China have been rocked in recent years by a wave of self-immolation protests by Tibetans challenging Beijing’s rule and calling for the return from exile of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Chinese authorities have labeled the self-immolators as terrorists, outcasts, criminals, and mentally ill people, and have accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging the burnings.