|Barkhor Square in Lhasa, Tibet, on 22 September 2008. Image credit: Reurinkjan / CC BY 2.0|
Protests swept across the Tibetan plateau ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. More than a decade later, China continues to track down and punish pro-independence protesters who took part in the unrest, some episodes of which turned deadly. An indictment uncovered by Dui Hua reveals how one protester was ultimately found and punished years after their alleged crime.
This case revolves around a Tibetan known by the name of Kelsang Cheron (格桑谢郎) who was accused of robbery. He was formally arrested on October 18, 2019 in Zhuoni County, Gansu, for a crime he allegedly committed 11 years ago during the Tibetan protests that began on March 17, 2008. The case was transferred to the procuratorate for prosecution on January 7, 2020.
|Cropped image of the indictment confirming that arrest of Kelsang Cheron in October 2019 for robbery. His name was partially redacted, but the full name was revealed later in the indictment.|
Similarly, the indictment did not say whether the Tibetan monks looted anything valuable. However, evidence is cited of them damaging public property. They allegedly set fire and threw bricks and stones, destroying more than four million yuan worth of property such as fences, gates, computers, televisions, vehicles, and various data files. During the destruction, some protesters entered a primary school where they lowered the Chinese national flag and replaced it with the Snow Lion flag, which remained hoisted for days until police took the flag down on March 20.
|In May 2008, Tibetans in Dharamsala, India, protest China’s occupation while holding the Snow Lion flag. Image credit: Kiran Jonnalagadda / CC BY 2.0|
The case of Cheron calls into question of the allegations of robbery, a crime many Tibetan monks were also accused of violating in 2008. Official accounts of his case bear resemblance to some of the problematic evidence about “beating, smashing, looting and burning” by pro-democracy protesters in 1989, with a notable example being Wang Jun (王军). Wang, 18 years old at the time, was caught at the scene during the April disturbance in Xi’an. In May, the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court convicted Wang for arson and robbery and sentenced him to death for the two crimes. Upon appeal, the Shaanxi High Court, following the review instruction from the Supreme People’s Court, revised the combined sentence to death with two-year reprieve. The crime of robbery, which afforded him a life sentence, stemmed from Wang allegedly “taking advantage of the unrest and stealing an electronic calculator, cassette tapes, and pens.” Wang ultimately spent a total of twenty years in Shaanxi’s Fuping Prison before he was released in May 2009.
Common charges against Tibetan protesters who participated in the 2008 unrest include robbery, arson, and gathering a crowd to disturb social order or to attack state organs. In the same year, the number of people tried for splittism nationwide doubled from 459 in the previous year to 926. By now, many of these Tibetan protesters are believed to have completed their prison sentences, but the fate of Kelsang Cheron remains shrouded in mystery. Dui Hua has been unable to find the judgment of his case. Given the abysmally low acquittal rates and his refusal to confess, it is likely that Kelsang Cheron is still behind bars for a disputable crime that he committed 14 years ago.