A Chinese court on Wednesday handed down death sentences to two people accused of starting deadly fires in last year's anti-government riots in Tibet, state media and a court officer said.
It was the first report of death sentences given out for the March 14 violence in the Tibetan capital Lhasa that Chinese officials say killed 22 people.
The Lhasa Municipal Intermediate People's Court also gave suspended death sentences to two other people, and another was sentenced to life imprisonment, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a brief dispatch. Suspended death sentences usually revert to life imprisonment after two years.
Xinhua said the five were tried in three separate arson cases that left seven people dead and five shops burned to the ground in Lhasa. One other arson case is still being heard in which five people were killed, it said.
A man who answered the phone at the Lhasa Intermediate People's Court said the verdicts were announced on Wednesday, but he could not confirm the sentences or provide other details about the trial or those sentenced. Like many Chinese officials he would only give his surname, Yang.
State media says 76 people have been sentenced and more than 950 detained following last year's protests.
The riots broke out following several days of peaceful anti-government protests by Buddhist monks. Despite the heavy security presence in Lhasa, rioters attacked Chinese-owned shops and homes for hours with little opposition. As sympathy protests, some of them violent, swept over large swathes of Tibetan-populated areas of western China, authorities launched a massive crackdown that sealed off the region.
Tibetan supporters say the death toll in the protests and subsequent crackdown stands in the dozens.
Beijing claims the protests were part of a violent campaign by Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters to throw off Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.