One of Tibet's richest businessmen has been sentenced to life in prison for helping Tibetan exile groups, a human rights organization said Thursday.
Dorje Tashi was sentenced on June 26 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, said Urgen Tenzin, director of the India-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
Dorje Tashi, believed to be in his mid-30s, is the operator of the Yak Hotel, the most famous hotel in Lhasa.
China has not reported the sentence, which comes amid increased repression of Tibetan intellectuals after rioting in Lhasa in 2008 in which at least 22 people died.
A duty officer at the Lhasa Intermediate People's Court, reached by phone Thursday, said staff were out on holiday.
The general manager of the Yak Hotel, Wang Jiu, confirmed that Dorje Tashi was sentenced but would not comment further.
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. 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," Mr. 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."
With no word from the Chinese government, the exact charge against Dorje Tashi was not known. "He was charged with funding some outside Tibetan groups," Urgen Tenzin said.
He said he didn't know Dorje Tashi personally. "Before, we had no contact with him. He's just a businessman."
It was not clear if Dorje Tashi, who was detained in 2008, has a lawyer, and his family could not be reached Thursday.
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.
In May, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet published a report saying 31 Tibetans are now in prison "after reporting or expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing information about Chinese government policies and their impact in Tibet today."
The report said it was the first time since the end of China's chaotic Cultural Revolution in 1976 that there has been such a targeted campaign against Tibetan singers, artists and writers who peacefully express their views.