A Chinese court has sentenced two more Tibetan Buddhist monks to up to 13 years in prison for assisting in the death of a 16-year-old colleague who lit himself on fire, penalties aimed apparently at discouraging further such acts.
Tsering Tenzin was sentenced to 13 years and Tenchum to 10 years, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Tuesday. Tenchum goes by just one name.
The two "plotted, instigated and assisted in the self-immolation of fellow monk Rigzin Phuntsog and caused his death," Xinhua said, citing the court's findings.
Their sentencing Tuesday at the Maerkang County People's Court in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture follows an 11-year sentence handed down to another monk, Drongdru, accused of hiding Phuntsog after he lit himself on fire and depriving him of medical attention for 11 hours. Phuntsog later died in a hospital.
The March 16 death of Phuntsog, reportedly a nephew and a disciple of Drongdru, was seen as a protest against China's heavy-handed controls on Tibetan Buddhism and provoked a standoff between security forces and monks.
Similar protests have been mounted in the past, although the exact circumstances surrounding Phuntsog's death remain murky.
Aba prefecture has been the scene of numerous protests over the past several years against the Chinese government. Most are led by monks who are fiercely loyal to Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled the Himalayan region in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and is reviled by Beijing.
As custodians of Tibet's Buddhist culture, monks are especially sensitive to strict Chinese controls over monasteries that they say take precious time away from religious study and practice.
Kirti monastery, where all four monks were resident, is under tight guard by security forces who have been accused by overseas pro-Tibetan groups of beating onlookers and detaining monks. The area is off-limits to foreign journalists.
In June, China rejected pressure from a U.N. human rights panel to provide information about more than 300 monks from Kirti whose whereabouts it said have been unknown since the monastery was raided in April.
The Foreign Ministry has said that monks were undergoing "legal education" _ a reference to compulsory political lectures on the basics of the Chinese Constitution, criminal law and regulations on religious affairs.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Monday saying it was concerned about Drongdru's sentencing, adding that it was unclear whether he had been granted proper legal rights.
"We urge the Chinese government to ensure transparency and to uphold the procedural protections and rights to which Chinese citizens are entitled under China's Constitution and laws and under international standards," the statement said.