Two people have been put to death for their roles in deadly protests last year in the Chinese-controlled region of Tibet, the first known executions for the violence, an overseas monitoring group said Tuesday.
China confirmed the executions but gave no details. Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak, who goes by one name, were sentenced to death in April on charges relating to "starting fatal fires," according to the International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The group said the Tibetans were executed in the regional capital of Lhasa but did not say when. Other Tibetan rights groups have said the executions were carried out last Tuesday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu confirmed the two executions when asked about them by reporters, but he refused to give details. The International Campaign for Tibet said its information came from the British Foreign Office, which was notified by the Chinese Embassy in London.
Tibetans attacked Chinese migrants and shops in Lhasa in anti-government riots in March 2008 and torched parts of the city's commercial district.
Chinese officials say 22 people died, but Tibetans say many times that number was killed.
The violence in Lhasa and protests in Tibetan communities across western China were the most sustained unrest in the region since the late 1980s.
Tibetan resentment against Chinese rule has been fueled by religious restrictions and competition for resources with migrants from the Han Chinese majority. Similar grievances fed ethnic rioting this year in the neighboring heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang that left nearly 200 dead.
In comparison with the slower pace of prosecutions in Tibet, Chinese authorities in Xinjiang have already sentenced 21 people, with nine sentenced to death. The official China Daily newspaper said Tuesday three of those sentenced to death would not appeal the rulings.
In Tibet, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, authorities have made thousands of arbitrary arrests, and more than 100 trials have gone through the judicial system over the unrest.
Lobsang Gyaltsen was sentenced to death for setting fire to two garment shops in downtown Lhasa on March 14 last year, killing a shop owner, according to a spokesman for the Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People's Court, cited by the official Xinhua News Agency in April.
Loyak received the death penalty for setting fire to a motorcycle dealership in Dechen Township in Lhasa's Dagze County on March 15 last year, which led to the deaths of five people, Xinhua said. Many Tibetans only go by one name.
The court spokesman, who was not named, told Xinhua that only the two defendants' executions could appease the public's anger. Xinhua gave few details on the two, but U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia's Tibetan service said Lobsang Gyaltsen was 28 and was from a poor family in Lubuk Township in Lhasa. Loyak was 30. Lobsang Gyaltsen was allowed a visit by his mother before he was executed, it said.
"I have nothing to say, except please take good care of my child and send him to school," he was quoted as telling her. China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. Many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history.
More than 950 people were detained and 76 were sentenced following last year's riots, according to state media, but the government has never given a complete accounting, and details of punishments continue to trickle out.
Officials at Lhasa's public security bureau and People's Court have repeatedly said they have no information on the executions. British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis condemned the executions in a statement Friday.
"We respect China's right to bring those responsible for the violence in Tibet last year to justice. But the U.K. opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, and we have consistently raised our concerns about lack of due process in these cases in particular," he said.
Lewis also called on China to urgently review the cases of others sentenced to death.