China has sentenced a senior Tibetan religious leader, known as a 'Living Buddha', to eight-and-a-half years in jail for illegally occupying government land and possession of weapons, a news report said on Thursday.
The court in the western town of Kangding sentenced Phurbu Rinpoche, the 52-year-old head of the Pangri and Yatseg nunneries in Kardze county, to seven years in prison on the charge of illegally occupying government land and to an additional year for possession of bullets, sources said.
Rinpoche, who is the fifth incarnation of a revered Buddhist teacher known by the title of Burongma, was arrested in a dawn raid on May 18, 2008, in the wake of the unrest linked to the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight into exile and the beginning of Chinese rule in Tibet.
The local government viewed the case of Rinpoche, who has been identified as a reincarnation when he was seven months old, as one of the biggest causes of "instability" in the region.
"It seems they couldn't make the charge about a gun stand up so they used the bullets. As for illegally occupying land, this land was given to the living Buddha himself to build an old people's home so there is no question of it being illegal," an unnamed relative of the monk was quoted as saying by the Times newspaper today.
"The story of this religious leader is symptomatic of Beijing's heavy-handed treatment of Tibetans," Woeser, a leading Tibetan activist, was quoted as saying in the media.The report said the judges might have been wary of handing down a longer sentence amid fears of renewed anti-Chinese unrest as he commands thousands of disciples in Tibet as well as in other areas of China.