NEW DELHI — The political leader of Tibetan exiles on Friday accused China of holding "sham" trials in which eight Tibetans were convicted of inciting others to set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.
Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the convictions reported Thursday by China's state-run news agency were unfortunate because "repression is the cause" of the self-immolations.
About 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest China's heavy-handed rule, with more than 80 of them dying from their burns, according to overseas Tibetan rights groups.
The United States chimed in with criticism on Friday. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called on China's government to allow Tibetans to express their grievances publicly and peacefully and without fear of retribution.
A court in the southwestern province of Sichuan sentenced a Tibetan man to death with a two-year reprieve and gave his nephew a 10-year prison sentence for encouraging eight people to self-immolate last year, three of whom died, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Both men had been charged with murder.
Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison.
Xinhua also said a court in the northwestern province of Gansu sentenced six ethnic Tibetans to between three and 12 years in prison for their roles in a self-immolation of a local resident in October.
On Friday, Sangay attended a prayer meeting of nearly 1,000 Tibetans in the Indian capital of New Delhi, with a huge banner in the background reading, "Why do Tibetans burn themselves?"
Sangay said it was unfortunate that the Chinese government had resorted to "sham" trials that had "no basis or legal process."
"Now they are given long sentences, including suspended death sentences. These are very unfortunate trends because repression is the cause of self-immolation," Sangay told The Associated Press.
He said he had asked Tibetans around the world not to celebrate the Lunar New Year this month out of respect for those who have died from the self-immolations.
"As a form of condolences and solidarity to all those Tibetans inside Tibet ... I have asked Tibetans not to celebrate, not to organize any festivals, but to wear traditional dress and go to monasteries and pray for all those who have died and continue to suffer in Tibet," he said.
In Washington, Nuland said the U.S. wants to see "tragic acts of self-immolation to come to an end.
"We continue both publicly and privately to urge the Chinese government at all levels to address policies in the Tibetan areas that have created tensions and threaten the distinct cultural and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people," she told a news briefing.