Tibetan lama faces lengthy term in weapons charge

The trial opened this week for respected Tibetan lama who faces 15 years in prison on a weapons possession charge. Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, who headed the Pangri nunnery in Ganzi Prefecture of Sichuan Province, was arrested on May 18 after over 80 nuns from his and another nunnery staged a peaceful protest march to the town. Police claim to have found a pistol and more than 100 bullets and cartridges under a bed in Rinpoche’s room—a charge the lama denies.

Beijing-based lawyer Li Fangping told the AP that his 52-year-old client refutes the accusation, saying the weapons were brought in by the police themselves. “The charge is untenable,” Li said. “Police didn’t ask him about the source of the weapons or check for fingerprints.”

Li, a well-known public defender, said Rinpoche was forced into making a confession after a police interrogation and torture that lasted four days and nights, and threats that his wife and son would be detained if he did not comply with the order to “confess.”

The police raided Rinpoche’s home soon after the more than 80 nuns had staged the peaceful march in protest against the Chinese imposition of “patriotic re-education” at their nunneries. The campaign required the nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama in forced acts of blasphemy. According to Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, approximately 100 nuns from the area were believed to be still in detention.

The ICT says the charge against Rinpoche is far-fetched, given his established reputation as a “deeply respected local figure known for his work in the community”—including the building of a center for the aged and two clinics. The group says his detention had aroused deep resentment among local Tibetans. (Tibetan Review, April 23; AP, April 21)

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