Two young Tibetan men set fire to themselves on Monday and died in separate anti-China protests in Qinghai province, where a Tibetan local official openly criticized Chinese authorities for discriminatory policies that he said have fueled the Tibetan self-immolations, according to sources.
The burnings in Dowa township, Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county,in the Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture drew thousands of Tibetans to the streets and bring to 72 the total number of self-immolations challenging Chinese rule in Tibetan areas since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009.
Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, meanwhile, told China’s leaders not to blame him for the burning protests but to look “seriously” into the true causes of the self-immolations.
“The Chinese government should investigate the causes [of the incidents],” the Dalai Lama told reporters in Japan, according to a report carried by Kyodo News.
“China does not look into it seriously and tries to end [the incidents] only by criticizing me,” he said as the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s officials met in Beijing to endorse a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
A powerful signal?
Some Tibetan groups believe the Tibetan self-immolations, which have intensified in recent days, were aimed at sending a powerful signal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party which is holding its 18th Party Congress in Beijing to endorse a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
In Monday’s first protest, Nyingkar Tashi, 24, set himself ablaze at about 3:30 p.m. local time, sources said. He died at the scene, a Tibetan living in Oregon said, citing contacts in the region.
“He shouted ‘Long live the Dalai Lama’ and ‘Freedom for Tibetans,” the source said. “Local Tibetans took his body to his home, and the situation is very tense.”
Nyingkar Tashi is survived by his wife Drugmo Tso, 23, and father, Tashi Namgyal, 47, the source said.
Official speaks out
Nyingkar Tashi’s self-immolation coincided with a public meeting called by Chinese officials sent to look into a recent spate of self-burnings in the area, a Tibetan resident of the area told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“On Nov. 11, Chinese officials came to Rebgong and inquired into the self-immolations, the reactions of local Tibetans, and the views and thoughts of local officials.”
During the meeting, a local Tibetan official named Taklha blamed the protests on China’s ban on photos of the Dalai Lama, detention of the Panchen Lama, and restrictions on Tibetans’ freedoms, the source said.
“The local Tibetans were very surprised, and admired his audacity,” the source said.
Thousands of Tibetans have taken to the streets in Rebgong county’s capital Rongwo in recent days to protest Chinese rule, drawing large numbers of Chinese security forces to the area to contain the protests, sources said.
A second burning
In a second protest in Dowa township on Monday, 16-year-old Nyingchag Bum set himself ablaze and died in front of a Chinese government office building at around 7:00 p.m., according to local Tibetan sources.
“A large number of Tibetans were present,” said India-based Tibetan exile Dorjee Wangchuk, citing his own contacts in the region.
“[Nyingchag Bum’s] body was taken to a local monastery, and several thousand Tibetans gathered to mourn and pray for him,” Wangchuk said.
Nyingchag Bum, the eldest of four siblings in his family, is survived by his father Sangchug, 44, and his mother Tsering Tso, 38, Wangchuk said.
“In villages and towns throughout Rebgong, Chinese officials have warned Tibetans against taking part in large gatherings, and security has been tightened.”
“All Internet connections and telephone lines have been disconnected in the Dowa area, and local Tibetans fear a heavy security crackdown,” Wangchuk said.
China's rule rejected
Recent self-immolation protests in Tibetan areas have coincided with the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress held in Beijing to endorse a once-in-a-decade national leadership change.
“Throughout the 18th Party Congress, the new unelected leaders have been reminded on an almost daily basis of Tibetans’ rejection of Chinese rule, and of the terrible failure of policies to cement the occupation,” Stephanie Brigden, director of the London-based Free Tibet advocacy group, said.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei attacked Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for not openly "condemning" self-immolation protests by Tibetans.
"Not only did the Dalai [Lama] not condemn them, but he actually glorified these acts, which are against the national law and religious principles," Hong said.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul and Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Richard Finney.