New Turning Point for Burnings

Tibetans are unrelenting in their self-immolation campaign to restore their rights.
An analysis by Parameswaran Ponnudurai
2012-10-29
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Chinese security forces close in on the body of a Tibetan after he self-immolated in front of a police station in Gansu province, Oct. 23, 2012.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

The wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule may have entered a new phase following a record number of burnings last week.

The failure to contain the fiery protests, experts say, poses a major challenge to Beijing, which has tried a combination of strategies to douse the Tibetan campaign—from offering cash rewards to Tibetans to tip off potential burnings to tightening security clampdowns on monasteries.  

There were seven self-immolations from Oct 20 to Saturday, making it the deadliest week of burnings since the fiery protests intensified in March last year against Beijing's rule in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan-populated areas in Chinese provinces.

Two burnings per day were reported twice in the previous week—another record—as the number of self-immolations which began in February 2009 rose to 62.

The protests are continuing despite calls to end them by a special meeting of Tibetan exile groups convened on the advice of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in India's hill town of Dharamsala, where he lives in exile.

"This is a very serious development, suggesting that Tibetans believe that this rising number of self-immolations will make a substantive difference to their political situation, and it could lead to more people burning themselves," Robert Barnett, a scholar of Tibet at Columbia University, told RFA.

He thinks the self-immolation protests that have been questioning Beijing's rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama have entered a new phase.

The first phase, he said, was sparked in March last year when monks at the restive Kirti monastery in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of western China’s Sichuan province torched themselves to display their anger at the security clampdown at the monastery.

The protests spread to neighboring Qinghai and Gansu provinces and to the Tibet Autonomous Region as Tibetan laypeople joined monks and nuns in setting themselves alight and holding street demonstrations to underline their opposition to Chinese rule.

"The second phase involved laypeople, who were not responding to any particular incident but possibly to demonstrate sympathy for the monks and nuns. There was a general realization that the monks were under pressure," Barnett said.

The latest string of self-immolation protests—which involved double burnings on a single day, a cluster of five burnings in a week in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and calls by self-immolators for independence for Tibet—signal a new phase, he explained.

"This seems to me a new development."

Intensifying

The self-immolation protests are intensifying even as Chinese authorities take various measures to contain the situation.

On Oct. 21, Chinese police put up notices in Kanlho prefecture offering those who tip off authorities of planned self-immolations a reward of nearly U.S. $8,000.  Since the notice was issued, four immolations occurred in the area.

"The language used in the notice is consistent with the absence of official acknowledgement of policies or practices that have assuredly contributed to the ... self-immolations in Tibet since February 2009," said Washington-based advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet President Mary Beth Markey.

"Instead officials continue to characterize the Tibetan self-immolations as imitative, criminal, or misguided acts of 'terrorism-in-disguise'," she said.

Chinese officials had also approached the family of a Tibetan who self-immolated recently and offered them one million yuan (nearly U.S. $160,000) "if they confess and sign a document stating that he died over a family dispute and not in protest against Chinese rule."

Dorjee Kyi, the wife of Sangay Gyatso, a 27-year-old father of two who self-immolated on Oct. 6 in a monastery compound in Tsoe (in Chinese, Hezuo) county in Gansu, rejected the offer, according to sources close to the family.

Detained

Hundreds of Tibetans suspected by the authorities of being linked to the self-immolations have also been detained, often in locations unknown to their families and without any legal rights, rights groups said.

In an apparent attempt to instil fear into the Tibetans, stiff jail sentences—of up to 11 years—are being imposed on those spreading news of self-immolations to "outside contacts."

Communication links to areas where self-immolations occur are also cut off immediately to avoid any negative publicity, sources said.

“Across Tibet, the Chinese state is employing force and intimidation to quell calls for freedom and suppress information about protests," London-based advocacy group Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said.

"The people of Tibet continue to reject Chinese rule despite the state’s use of lethal force against protesters, disappearances, mass detentions, torture, deaths in detention, surveillance of communities and measures aimed at turning Tibetans against each other,” she said.

Brigden said Tibetans were also choosing the locations of their self-immolation protests carefully, pointing towards a potential trend of setting themselves on fire in front of Chinese government buildings that symbolize Beijing's occupation.

Lobsang Sangay, head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), as the government in exile is called, said the self-immolations stemmed from “political repression, economic marginalization, environmental destruction and cultural assimilation in Tibet by the Chinese government."

“Stop the repression and self-immolation would stop,” he said.

“In Tibet today, there are more Chinese than Tibetans, more troops than Tibetan monks and more surveillance cameras than windows, more guns than Tibetan butter lamps,” Sangay said.

Comments (3)
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Wangchuk

from NYC

"Anonymous Reader" is most likely a member of the 50 Cent Gang, paid by the CCP to defend the CCP regime & attack its critics. To blame the Dalai Lama for problems caused by the CCP is nonsenical & shows a deep ignorance of the situation in Tibet & ignores the wishes of the Tibetan people. It's clear the CCP doesn't care about the welfare of the Tibetan people & are only interested in colonizing Tibet & exploiting its resources. Tibet was free before 1951 & since then it's been enslaved by the PRC. It's time Tibetans rise up & overthrow their oppressors.

Nov 15, 2012 01:07 PM

Keith

from Albany California

The comment from the Anonymous Reader summarizes the attitiude of the Chinese Govenment. No more needs to be said.

Nov 03, 2012 06:02 PM

Anonymous Reader

Dalai Lama NEVER ask the Tibetans to stop this stupidity. If Dalai doesn't care, why should the rest of the world care about people who want to burn themselves to please their god-king? By his silence he is telling his subject he approves their stupid acts, and is shamelessly trying to use it for his own political leverage. It will never work, unless maybe the Dalai immolate himself.

Oct 30, 2012 01:02 PM