Lawyer: Police Forced Tibetan Lama to Confess བོད་སྐད།

A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer says police forced a Tibetan religious figure to confess to charges that could put him in prison for up to 15 years.

Beijing-based lawyer Li Fangping told the French news agency Wednesday that his client Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche confessed after being deprived of sleep for four days. Li told the Associated Press Tuesday that police had also threatened to detain the Buddhist figure's family.

Li said his client was framed on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and embezzlement. He said the case is the first time China has pressed criminal charges against a reincarnate lama (Tibetan: tulku; Chinese: huofo).

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche's trial began Tuesday in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) prefecture, a heavily Tibetan region of western Sichuan province. He was arrested during last year's anti-government protests.

The U.S. State Department listed the Tibetan lama as missing in a report earlier this year after what it called his arbitrary arrest on May 18th, 2008.

A highly respected local religious figure, Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche headed a Buddhist convent. The nunnery was involved in demonstrations last May against the Chinese government's so-called "patriotic education" campaign in religious institutions.

The India-based Tibetan government in exile on Wednesday condemned the lengthy prison sentences given to three young Tibetan women accused of lighting deadly fires during riots last year in the Tibetan capital. Chinese authorities say the women lit fires that killed six people.

Earlier this month, China handed down its first known death sentences in connection with the 2008 protests in and around Lhasa. Those protests turned violent on March 14th after the government sent in security forces to disperse them.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and ICT.