A Chinese court in a Tibetan area convicted a man of intentional homicide and inciting secession on Friday for “goading” a monk to set himself on fire, state media reported, even though the monk did not follow through.
The official Xinhua news agency said the man, named as Phagpa, was sentenced to 13 years in jail by the court in a Tibetan prefecture of China’s northwestern Qinghai province.
Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in apparent protest against Beijing’s rule, which critics say represses Tibetan religious rights and erodes their culture as more majority ethnic Han move to Tibetan areas.
According to the Tibetan government in exile, 83 of them have died.
With the 100th incident approaching, Chinese authorities have embarked on an extensive publicity drive on the issue, with both Xinhua and CCTV, the state broadcaster, covering it at length.
They said that outside forces linked to the Dalai Lama were manipulating vulnerable young people, telling them that burning themselves alive would make them heroes, while CCTV said coded messages on Voice of America radio were used.
VOA described the claims as “absurd”.
In the latest court case Xinhua reported that Phagpa encouraged the monk, named as Drolma Je, to self-immolate for “freedom and independence of the Tibetan ethnic group”, but he was dissuaded by his sister.
The 27-year-old defendant was also found to have spread Tibetan independence “ideas” and incited demonstrations, the report said.
The monk’s monastery is in Tongren county, the report said, an area that has become a flashpoint for a wave of self-immolations.
The judgment follows two Tibetans being convicted of murder last week for inciting others to burn themselves to death. One was given a suspended death penalty and the other 10 years in prison, state media reported.
Another six were convicted in a similar case. The judgments were believed to be the first of their kind since judicial authorities were told to use murder charges in such incidents.
State media reported on Thursday that 70 people have been detained in Huangnan prefecture, which includes Tongren, in connection with “a string of self-immolations” since November last year.
Beijing seeks to blame the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, for the deaths. It also points to huge on-going investment in Tibetan areas.