China convicts Tibetan burning 'inciters' of murder

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese court convicted two Tibetans of murder on Thursday for inciting others to self-immolate, handing one a suspended death sentence and the other 10 years in prison, state media reported.

Lorang Konchok, 40, and his nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, "incited and coerced eight people to self-immolate, resulting in three deaths", the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the court in Aba prefecture in Sichuan province.

Lorang Konchok, who was also accused of working with a media liaison at what prosecutors called an overseas Tibet independence group, was condemned to death with a two-year reprieve, a sentence which is often commuted to life in prison.

Five of the people recruited by the two defendants ultimately decided not to set themselves on fire, "after willfully abandoning their plans or after police intervened", Xinhua reported.

The judgments were believed to be the first since judicial bodies were told last month to charge with intentional murder those who allegedly encouraged or assisted others to carry out the gruesome form of protest.

Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire apparently to signal their discontent with Beijing, which critics say represses Tibetan religious rights and erodes their culture as more majority ethnic Han move to Tibetan areas.

China rejects criticism of its governance in Tibetan areas, pointing instead to huge ongoing investment that it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.

It has blamed the immolations on separatist forces and the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.

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