A Tibetan 'living Buddha' has been sentenced to eight and half years in jail on charges of possessing firearms and illegally occupying public property, his lawyers said yesterday. Phurbu Tsering's lawyers claimed that the charges were groundless and could be related to a protest on May 13, 2008, involving about 100 Tibetan monks and nuns from the two monasteries he ran in Sichuan's Ganzi prefecture. Phurbu Tsering, 52, is the highest Tibetan religious figure to be jailed since deadly rioting broke out in Tibetan-populated areas in March 2008. The sentence was handed down by a court in Sichuan's Kangding county on December 23. His lawyers, Li Fangping and Jiang Tianyong, said they had not been informed about the sentencing in advance and Phurbu Tsering was not represented by a lawyer at the hearing. 'The living Buddha was very disappointed at the way the court tried his case,' Jiang said. 'He believed an appeal would be futile. But his family is now trying to persuade him not to give up.' Phurbu Tsering, also known as Buramna Rinpoche, was accused of keeping a pistol and more than 100 bullets under a bed in his living room. He was arrested on May 18, a few days after the monks and nuns protested in Ganzi against a campaign launched by the authorities that urged Tibetan lamas to denounce the Dalai Lama after the March rioting. Li said the firearms did not necessarily belong to Phurbu Tsering as a living Buddha's living room was open for everyone and almost equalled a public area. Jiang said that the authorities had put forward the accusation without conducting fingerprint dusting on the munitions. Phurbu Tsering was also found guilty of illegally occupying a piece of land that he used to build a home for the elderly. Jiang said the lama paid 70,000 yuan (HK$79,000) in 2005 for the use of the land. Jiang and Li said they had not been allowed to represent Phurbu Tsering since July. The sentencing hearing was first scheduled on April 28, after a day's trial on April 21. But the court postponed the sentencing hearing, as it said more evidence had been found, Jiang said. 'But the court never arranged another trial and then handed down the sentence out of the blue,' Jiang said. The clash, which broke out on March 14 in Tibet's Lhasa and later spread to other parts of China, claimed 22 lives according to the government's account, and hundreds according the Tibetan government in exile's account. Nearly 1,000 have been detained and dozens sentenced for involvement in the protests. Many believed the rioting was prompted by Tibetan discontent about Beijing's policies that have been accused of stifling their culture and religion. Beijing has since stepped up rhetoric against the Dalai Lama, as it accused the spiritual leader of being a mastermind of the protests, a claim that he has denied.