China Sentences 17 for Alleged Involvement in Tibet Riots

A Chinese court sentenced 17 people to jail terms Tuesday ranging from three years to life in prison for their alleged roles in the deadly riots in the Tibetan capital last month, state media reported.

The Intermediate People's Court of Lhasa announced the sentences at an open session, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It gave no other immediate details.

China's state broadcaster reported that 200 people attended the trial, the first since the mid-March riots.

The massive anti-government protests that turned violent in Lhasa on March 14 were the most significant challenge to Chinese rule in the Himalayan region in nearly two decades.

China has said that 22 people died in the riots while Tibetan exile groups say many times that number were killed in the violence and ensuing crackdown.

Tibet and the surrounding provinces where protests broke out have been closed to foreigners since the unrest.

The sentences come the same day authorities announced the reopening of the first of the Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa — the Sera Monastery — closed after last month's riots, Xinhua reported.

"Monks have been taught legal knowledge in recent days and the monastery has resumed normal religious activities," Tenzin Namgyal, deputy director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying.

Other monasteries that were closed will be reopened soon, he said.

Chinese authorities have increased patriotic education classes that require monks to make ritual denunciations of the exiled Dalai Lama, accept the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, and pledge allegiance to Beijing.

The protests, initially led by Buddhist monks, started peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. They became violent four days later as Tibetans attacked cars and shops runs by Han Chinese, China's majority ethnic group.

Police and armed troops surrounded Lhasa's three main monasteries — Sera, Drepung and Ganden — along with the sacred Jokhang temple during the demonstrations. They were then closed off as authorities investigated which monks had been involved in the unrest.