Amid Protests, a Call for Prayers

A wave of self-immolations could lead to a 'turning point' in relations between the Chinese authorities and Tibetans, one expert says.
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Tibetan monks in India's hill town of Dharamsala take part in a protest march, holding placards showing monks who self immolated in Tibet, Oct. 14, 2011.
Tibetan monks in India's hill town of Dharamsala take part in a protest march, holding placards showing monks who self immolated in Tibet, Oct. 14, 2011.

Tibetan protest leaflets and a banned national flag appeared on Thursday in a Tibetan-populated county in China’s Sichuan province following larger protests in the area at the beginning of the month, according to a Tibetan source Friday.

The protest came as Tibetans prepared for a day of fasting and prayers next week in a display of solidarity following a wave of self-immolations by Tibetan monks in protest against Chinese rule and human rights abuses in Tibetan areas.   

One expert said that the self-immolation protests by seven Tibetan monks so far this year could be a key test in relations between the Chinese authorities and Tibetans.

The protests “could lead to a turning point in relations between the Chinese state and the Tibetan community,” said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.

“I have seen things on the Web inside Tibet—poems and comments and so on—that show that many Tibetans are deeply upset about these developments,” Barnett said.

“I think that Tibetans take it very seriously when they see people prepared to give up their lives because of what is understood to be political pressure on them.”

Leaflets, flag displayed

On Thursday morning, leaflets were displayed in the streets of the Khakor subdistrict of Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county of Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture, said Serthar Tsultrim Woeser, a native of Serthar living in exile in India.

“These leaflets were written in Tibetan and displayed on both sides of the streets,” Woeser said, citing contacts in the region.

“A Tibetan flag was also hoisted at the local police station,” Woeser said.

A “huge contingent” of police had been sent to the town in response, Woeser said, adding that authorities had begun to search for the still-unidentified  persons responsible for putting up the leaflets and flag.

“Today, Oct. 14, the local authorities have summoned Tibetan residents to attend meetings,” Woeser said.

Calls seeking comment from the Khakor Investigation Office and Security Department rang unanswered Friday.

Hundreds protested

Hundreds of Tibetans had protested in Serthar on Oct. 1, China’s National Day, after authorities tore a Tibetan flag and large photo of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama from a building and threw them into the street, Tibetan sources said.

Over 200 Tibetans, including monks and laymen, took part in the protests, according to the India-based Central Tibetan Administration, or government-in-exile.

Meanwhile, the Tibetan government-in-exile has called on the United Nations and “freedom-loving countries and people around the world” for increased attention to Tibet following a wave of self-immolation protests in the Ngaba (in Chinese, Ganzi) and Kardze Tibetan prefectures in Sichuan.

“On October 19, 2011, the Central Tibetan Administration will offer day-long prayers and encourage all Tibetans to fast on that day as a gesture of solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet,” a statement said on Wednesday.

Beijing has accused  the Dalai Lama of violating Buddhist teachings by not condemning the self-immolations in which four monks have died.

“[The Dalai Lama] has said many times in the past that suicidal protests are not something he approves of or wants to encourage,” Barnett said.

“But he can’t put himself in the position of criticizing people’s right to protest, and he certainly can’t put himself in the position of saying these people don’t experience intolerable pressure … It’s quite clear that they do.”

“The obvious solution for this would seem to be for China to talk to the Dalai Lama,” Barnett said.

“They are facing a moral crisis, and he’s one obvious person—probably the only one—who could really help them with this.”

Reported by Kunzang Tenzin and Pema Ngodup for RFA’s service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.





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