BEIJING — One of Tibet’s richest businessmen has been sentenced to life in prison for helping exile groups, a human rights organization said yesterday, the latest case in a surprising crackdown on well-known Tibetans once praised by Chinese authorities.
Dorje Tashi was sentenced June 26 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, said Urgen Tenzin, director of the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Dorje, believed to be in his mid-30s, is the operator of the Yak Hotel, the most famous hotel in Lhasa. He met President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao of China in 2005, two years after joining the ruling Communist Party.
“Tibetans like him are the super elite,’’ said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University. “The severity of the sentence and the exceptional importance of the prisoner are unprecedented.’’
China has not reported the prison sentence, which comes amid increased repression of Tibetan intellectuals after ethnic rioting in Lhasa in 2008 in which at least 22 people died.
The general manager of the Yak Hotel, Wang Jiu, confirmed that Dorje was sentenced but would not comment further.
The crackdown is surprising because it includes high-profile Tibetans who were known for working within the system instead of opposing it. Dorje joined the ruling Communist Party in 2003, the state-run China Ethnic Press reported in March 2009.
The report praised Dorje’s company, the Shenhu Group, for offering water and other support to security forces after the Lhasa rioting, and for having its more than 800 employees sign agreements “upholding the unity of the motherland and opposing the ethnic separatists.’’
“He is like an eagle above a snowy high plateau, leading the Shenhu Group to hover on the sky of history,’’ the report said.
According to a Lhasa-based website, Tibet Commercial Web, Dorje has been a delegate to the national Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government and named one of “10 outstanding youth of Tibet.’’