Rights Group Criticizes Charges Against Tibetan Lama

An international human rights group is calling on a Chinese court to throw out criminal charges against a Tibetan religious leader.

Human Rights Watch says there is evidence the charges against Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche are unsubstantiated and politically motivated.

The Tibetan lama was arrested during last year's wave of anti-government protests and was charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, as well as embezzlement.

He was tried on the charges this month and was to have received a verdict on Tuesday, but the court in Kardze prefecture postponed its ruling indefinitely.

Human Rights Watch said the court case was exceptional because Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche had a chance to defend himself in court, unlike most Tibetans arrested during the March 2008 protests.

Lawyers for the Tibetan lama say he could face up to 15 years in prison. The lama denies all charges and says he signed a confession only under police duress.

Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche headed a Buddhist nunnery. That nunnery was involved in demonstrations against the Chinese government's so-called "patriotic education" campaign in religious institutions.