Seven Tibetans were sentenced to long jail terms this week, some for celebrating the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama last year, according to US-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA).

The People’s Intermediate Court in Barkham county handed down the sentences on Tuesday, Kanyak Tsering, a Tibetan monk exiled in Dharamsala, India, told RFA, citing contacts in the region.

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Drukdra in an undated photo. Photo: RFA.

The seven Tibetans were given terms ranging from five to 14 years.

One of those jailed was Drukdra, a monk connected to the Kirti monastery in Ngaba prefecture – known as Aba in Chinese – in Sichuan province. The monastery is the site of protests against Beijing’s rule in recent years.

Tsering said that Drukdra was sentenced to 14 years. He was taken by police from his room in the monastery in November last year and his whereabouts were unknown until the sentencing.

“He is presumed to have been arrested out of suspicion that he arranged celebrations for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday,” Tsering said.

The Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally governs Tibet. The current Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India in 1959 after a failed revolt against Chinese rule. Chinese authorities view him as a dangerous separatist, though the Dalai Lama says he only seeks greater autonomy for Tibet. In September, the Communist Party’s top official in the region said China would make countering his influence highest priority in ethnic work in Tibet, and vowed to uproot his “separatist and subversive” activities.

Chinese authorities tightened restrictions across regions populated by Tibetans last year before the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday on July 6, 2015, posting warnings against celebrations and blocking public gatherings that could be linked to it, RFA previously reported.

Others convicted for celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday were Kirti monk Lobsang Khedrup, 44, sentenced to 13 years, and Bonkho Kyi, a 48 year old woman jailed for seven years, Tsering said.

The sentences were also reported by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an NGO in Dharamsala run by Tibetans in exile.

Citing information received, the NGO reported that they were all sentenced after being held incommunicado for months, and family members only found out where they were after the sentencing.

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Bhonkho Kyi (right) and Lobsang Gephel. Photo: TCHRD.

Drukdra – who earlier served time for his role in 2008 protests in Ngaba – organised a picnic to celebrate the exiled spiritual leader’s 80th birthday, the NGO reported. Bonkho Kyi also organised a picnic, and Lobsang Khedrup created a WeChat group for local Tibetans to offer their prayers for the occasion. All three had served jail sentences previously.

The court also handed down sentences for four others on Tuesday: 29-year-old Kirti monk Lobsang Gephel was jailed for 12 years, 41-year-old Kirti monk Lodroe was jailed for nine years, former monk Tsultrim was jailed for six years, and 35-year-old former Kirti monk Akyakya was jailed for five years.

A woman who picked up the phone at the Aba Intermediate People’s Court told HKFP she did not know about Drukdra’s case.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.