A court in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region has sentenced 12 Tibetan villagers to prison terms of from one to almost two years for running “a criminal gang,” state media said on Tuesday.
The 12, all residents of Tibet’s Sog (in Chinese, Suo) county, had been accused of fraud and of “using religious influence to interfere in the affairs of local government,” according to a Jan. 14 report by the Tibet Daily.
They had also “exploited and harassed” local people and had preached “superstitious ideas, attempting to spread the evil influence of religion in the villages,” the Daily said in its report.
All 12, including a man identified only by the single name Druk, had “confessed their crimes” and will now serve their terms in prison without appealing their sentences to a higher court, the Daily said.
Speaking on Wednesday to RFA’s Tibetan Service, Ngawang Tharpa—a member of Tibet’s India-based exile parliament, called the jailing of the 12 Sog villagers “a flagrant violation of the Tibetan people’s freedom of religion.”
“In the name of cracking down on organized crime, the Chinese have now openly prosecuted advocates of Tibetan culture and religion on trumped-up charges,” Tharpa said, adding, “These are the heart and soul of Tibetan civilization.”
While anti-gang campaigns are being carried out across Tibetan regions of China, these are often used as an excuse to suppress environmental activists or ordinary Tibetans promoting use of the Tibetan language or combating corruption in local government, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Development projects in Tibetan areas have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms and local officials of pilfering money, improperly seizing land, and disrupting the lives of local people.
Many result in violent suppression, the detention of protest organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government’s wishes.