Associates of one of Tibet's richest businessmen say Dorje Tashi has been sentenced to life in prison on charges of helping Tibetan exile groups. Dorje Tashi, believed to be in his mid-30s, is the operator of the Yak Hotel, the most famous hotel in Lhasa.
People close to the prominent hotel owner's family tell the sentence was delivered on June 26 but has not been made public by the Chinese government. The sentence is also reported by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
The Associated Press quoted that India-based group saying Dorje Tashi was accused of "funding some outside Tibetan groups." No further details of the charges were available.
The recent crackdown has surprised Tibetan supporters because it includes high-profile Tibetans who were known for working within the system instead of opposing it. But observers were surprised at the harshness of the sentence given to Dorje Tashi, who is reported to have joined Dorje Tashi joined the ruling Communist Party in 2003, the state-run China Ethnic Press reported in March 2009.
"People who work within the system in China and Tibet, it would make no sense for them to risk everything to get involved in politics," said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University.
"Tibetans like him, they are the super elite," Barnett said. "The severity of the sentence and the exceptional importance of the prisoner are unprecedented."
According to a Lhasa-based website, Tibet Commercial Web, Dorje Tashi has been a delegate to the national Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government, and was named one of "10 outstanding youth of Tibet."
In another high-profile case in June, a Tibetan environmentalist, Karma Samdrup, once praised by the government as a model philanthropist, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of grave robbing and dealing in looted antiquities. His supporters said he was actually being punished for his activism.
More than 50 Tibetan cultural figures believed to be detained, disappeared, tortured or harassed since the 2008 protests. That figure is according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, a rights watchdog group, which says Tibetan intellectuals are facing their harshest crackdown since the Cultural Revolution in 1976.
ICT researcher Ben Carrdus says the profile of Tibetan protestors is changing, and that makes Beijing nervous. "Post 2008, there was a real reaction against the oppression that the Chinese authorities were putting on those forms of expression. And it was seen across the board from high school students to Tibetan nomads to Tibetans who worked for government to university teachers."
Some information for this report was provided AP