REACTIONS TO THE SELF- IMMOLATIONS IN TIBET AND BEIJING'S EFFORTS TO STOP THEM

RESPONSE BY TIBETANS TO THE SELF- IMMOLATIONS

The protests have divided exiled Tibetans with some seeing them as a legitimate protest while others worry they contravene Buddhist beliefs in the sanctity of life. Ananth Krishnan wrote in The Hindu: “In Dharamsala, members of the exiled community met to discuss the protests. While the Dharamsala exiled administration has issued appeals for the protests to stop, others in the Tibetan community have called for more support for those have carried out the immolations. Some Tibetan writers in China have issued an appeal calling for the self-immolations to stop, arguing that Tibetans needed “to cherish life” to fight for their rights. [Source: Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, October 5, 2012]

Some prominent Tibetans have pleaded for an end to the self-immolations, saying they are not helping the cause of Tibetan rights. In March 2012, poet Tsering Woeser said in an online appeal that she is "grief-stricken" about people who have set themselves on fire. The appeal called on influential Tibetans, including monks and intellectuals, to help end the deadly form of protest.

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Labrang, one of the largest monasteries in China, has been the site of a cluster of self-immolations. Tibetans blame Chinese intrusion into the monasteries, where monks undergo patriotic education, in which they are lectured about the Communist Party and told to renounce the Dalai Lama."The Chinese don't understand our religion. They don't believe in it and they create a suffocating atmosphere," said a former Labrang monk who gave his name as Tashi, who fled in 2008 but remains in touch with his friends at the monastery. "The situation is getting worse and worse. They've turned Xiahe into an armed camp." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2012]

"Tibetans in exile struggle to come up with an answer as to how to respond to these protests," said Dibyesh Anand, a Tibetan scholar at London's University of Westminster. "They tread a thin line since glorifying it as a sacrifice would open them to accusations that they are encouraging it. Criticizing it would be a sad attack on those sacrificing."

Woeser: How Many Tibetans Have to Burn Themselves Before the Chinese Care?

In March 2012 Tibetan poet and activist Tsering Woeser wrote in Foreign Policy: Twenty-seven Tibetans have set fire to themselves since 2009 in protest against Chinese rule. Since this January alone, 14 people have done so. A total of 20 have died in the past few years from self-immolation; an unknown number of Tibetans have been tortured or detained since protests broke out in 2008. What has been the reaction within China to this huge human disaster? ...There's a Tibetan saying: "Hope ruins Tibetans; suspicion ruins Han Chinese." I'm not sure when this saying came into being or what its background is. I only know that this expression falls off the lips of many Tibetans, who use it meaningfully, mockingly, or helplessly. [Source: Tsering Woeser, Foreign Policy, March 13, 2012]

A few Han Chinese have spoken out. Human rights lawyer Teng Biao said this year that "Chinese public intellectuals have kept mum [about the immolations], pretending to be ignorant of what's happening, silently cooperating. They are as shameless as the murderers themselves." In 2008 after the authorities suppressed the Tibetan protests, Teng and more than 20 Chinese rights lawyers issued a public statement saying they were willing to provide legal assistance to those Tibetans who had been arrested. As a result, Teng lost his lawyer's license; the other lawyers involved also met with difficulties. Over the last year, China's leading human rights lawyers have come under harsh attack, and now few would dare take on sensitive cases involving Tibetans.

The authorities always say that they "liberated" Tibet, bringing "happiness" to 6 million Tibetans. But why, so many years after the 1959 liberation, are the serfs revolting against their liberators? The authorities have an explanation: The "Dalai clique" is to blame for all this -- the protests, the young Tibetans taking to the streets, the violence. Chinese media have turned this lie into public opinion. And the Chinese people, indoctrinated by the one voice with which the Chinese media speaks, don't understand why Tibetans protest and don't care to learn.

Tibetans have no voice in China. The Dalai Lama, who has been in exile for 53 years; the Panchen Lama, who has been missing for 17 years; the 27 people who have set fire to themselves over the past three years, a group of people between the ages of 17 to 41, monks and nuns, farmers, herders, students, and the parents of children -- the only existence they have in Chinese society is one in which their reputations have been sullied and the truth has been distorted.

How many members of Tibet's elite have been disappeared by the party apparatus and now sit in some black jail somewhere? And still the Han Chinese say nothing. Many keep silent because they accept the concept of grand unity, where all minorities need to be shoehorned into fitting under Chinese rule. Some keep silent because they mind their own business, a traditional principle of Confucianism that has devolved into selfishness. And some are silent because they are afraid. In Beijing recently, someone transmitted news of a Tibetan committing self-immolation on Sina's microblog (China's Twitter). The police took him to a police station in the middle of the night and warned him not to mention Tibet again.

This silence can be broken. If Han Chinese and Tibetans speak out about what they have seen and what they have heard, the unbridled repression will be restrained, or at the very least, when the gun is being fired, maybe it will miss its target. Silence, not hope, ruins Tibetans. To avoid being destroyed, our only choice is to destroy this silence.

Self-immolations Reflect Rising Tibetan Anger

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: The crackdown seems to have fueled a renewed sense of Tibetan national identity, according to refugees who have fled the region recently for Dharmsala and those like teacher Kelsang Nyima, who returned to his Tibetan village in the Chinese province of Qinghai this year to visit relatives. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, April 2, 2012]

“When I left Tibet in 1998, there was not that much conversation about Tibetan nationalism, although some people talked of the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” he said. “This time I can strongly feel the growing sense of nationalism among Tibetans. It is a huge change.”

Once a week, all across this vast Himalayan plateau, Tibetans wear traditional dress, speak only in Tibetan and avoid shops run by Han Chinese, a protest known as “White Wednesday.”

Scores of writers, intellectuals and artists were arrested in 2008 for overtly political work, but in a powerful resurgence of Tibetan culture, others have doggedly continued. Their messages of freedom and yearning for the return of the Dalai Lama are concealed in subtle metaphors that escape the wrath of Chinese officials.

“When we hear about the immolations we feel very helpless, all we can do is cry,” 26-year-old nomadic herdsman Sugney Kyab, told the Washington Post. “We have no voice, we can’t even make a phone call, it is so suffocating.” Kyab and other refugees said the immolators had become heroes to Tibetans, their acts “a clear expression that we can no longer live under Chinese rule.” It is also, say increasing numbers of young Tibetan refugees, a sign of the failure of the Dalai Lama’s “middle way,” a two-decade-long attempt to conciliate the Chinese and negotiate with them, an avoidance of any talk of independence in favor of a vaguely defined call for autonomy within China.

Beijing’s Reaction to the Self-Immolations

Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post: China’s response to the self-immolations has been to blame the Dalai Lama, with one state-run Web site recently accusing him of wanting to impose “Nazi” racial policies inside Tibet and build a—“Berlin Wall” of ethnic segregation and confrontation.” The middle way, it said, was strikingly ‘similar to the Holocaust committed by Hitler on the Jewish.” [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, April 2, 2012]

At his annual news conference in Beijing in March 2012, Premier Wen Jiabao spoke out against the immolations and said it was sad to see such behavior from innocent Tibetans. "We are opposed to taking such radical moves which disturb and undermine the social harmony," Wen said. "The young Tibetans are innocent. We feel deeply distressed by their behavior." China has previously sought to discredit the self-immolators, saying that some suffered mental problems or had criminal records. Wen also stressed that Tibet and other heavily Tibetan areas of China remain "inseparable parts of China's territory."

China has condemned the self-immolation campaign as immoral and inhuman, saying it will never succeed. A Chinese government Tibetan expert said the "Dalai Lama clique" had "instigated and enticed" the men to self-immolate.

A senior official who helps oversee the Tibet issue, Zhu Weiqun, of the United Front Work Department, said that the self-immolations will not lead to any policy changes, Reuters reported on Friday. Mr. Zhu’s remarks on the self-immolations, which included a swipe at the Dalai Lama, were posted on the Web site tibet.cn. “I can honestly say to our friends that even if such a thing happens again,” Zhu said, “the direction of the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet and our attitude toward the Dalai clique’s struggle will not change in any way.”

According to Associated Press “authorities initially responded to the self-immolations by flooding Tibetan areas with security forces to seal them off and prevent information from getting out. With those efforts doing little to stop or slow the protests, Beijing then sought to weaken sympathy for them by portraying them as misguided and criminal.” When that didn’t work either, Beijing began punishing family members and other people associated with the self-immolators. [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press January 31, 2013 /=]

In December 2012, Reuters reported: Beijing’s “top court and public security authorities have issued a directive that allows for criminal charges, including intentional homicide, to be filed against self-immolators and anyone who “organizes, plots, incites, coerces, entices, abets, or assists others” in such protest. An official southwestern Gansu province newspaper explained the order on its website, saying authorities should prevent people from gathering to mourn a self-immolator or collect money for family members. [Source: Reuters, December 10, 2012]

Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “The government has blamed the self-immolations on the Dalai Lama, saying he and other Tibetans based in Dharmsala, India, were instigating the protests. When asked by reporters if Chinese authorities had evidence to back their claims, Padma Choling, chairman of the regional congress, said the evidence was there but "it was not convenient to reveal it right now.""Self-immolation is inhumane. Convincing others to commit such acts is even more inhumane," Padma Choling said. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.” [Source: Gillian Wong, AP, March 8, 2013]

Chinese Efforts to Halt Tibetan Self-immolations

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Chinese authorities have tried power, persuasion, propaganda---and money---in an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the flames that are threatening to engulf Tibetan stretches of western China. The authorities have blanketed the streets of Tibetan neighborhoods in the country with armed police wielding riot gear and fire extinguishers, erecting barricades and checkpoints. Tibetans who have spread news of the immolations through email and Skype have been arrested as well, sources say. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2012]

In the town where Thinlay's uncle set himself on fire, the Public Security Bureau recently tacked up notices offering rewards of up to $8,000 for "information on the scheming, planning and instigation of such acts." "Self-immolations have seriously affected social harmony and the working order of people's daily lives," read a notice dated Oct. 21. [Ibid]

In an effort to instill Chinese values in the restive Tibetan regions, authorities have stepped up what they call "patriotic education" in schools and monasteries, forcing residents to study communist theory. The efforts have instead further angered Tibetans.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University, said that in some areas, Chinese authorities have also offered to give money to the families of the dead if they'll claim that the self-immolation was not for political purposes. "The government is trying to give them money to say it was a suicide because of depression, problems with school or marriage," Barnett said. Tibetans, he said, are responding by raising money themselves to give the families. [Ibid]

China Tries to Halt Tibetan Self-Immolations with Cash Rewards for Tipsters

In October 2012, Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: “Police in western China are offering irresistibly large cash rewards to informants in an effort to staunch a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans. The rewards have emerged a few weeks before the 18th Party Congress, the key Chinese political event of the decade and a zenith of sensitivity and paranoia. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, October 26 2012]

At the same time AP reported: “Police in a heavily Tibetan region of far west China are offering tipsters a reward of $7,700 for information about planned self-immolations in a bid to stem a tide of fiery protests against Chinese rule. Since the notice was issued by police in Gansu province's Gannan prefecture, two more local Tibetans, a herdsman and a farmer, died after setting themselves on fire near the Labrang Monastery in Gannan. [Source: Associated Press, October 25, 2012]

Gannan police issued a notice saying that the string of recent immolations in the community had "seriously impacted social stability and harmony as well as people's ability to live and work." It said that in order to crack down on the demonstrations, people who tip off police about immolation plans will be rewarded 50,000 yuan ($7,700). The notice said that people who provide information on the "black hands" who organized four recent self-immolations would be rewarded up to 200,000 yuan ($30,000). [Ibid]

The notice promised to keep the identity of informers confidential for their protection. "Self-immolation is an extreme suicidal behavior that goes against humanity, society and the law and deprives people of their right to life," it said. "The instances of self-immolation that have occurred recently in our prefecture are part of a political conspiracy by the Dalai clique that means to split China and undermine national unity."

At least seven people have immolated in Gannan since March, including two women, and all have died, according to the Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet. A photo of the written notice was posted to Twitter by the Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser. A Gannan police officer who refused to give his name confirmed the details of the announcement. He said that no rewards have been paid out yet and no tips have been reported. Labrang Monastery, located in Gannan's Xiahe county, is one of the most important outside of Tibet, and was the site of numerous protests by monks following deadly ethnic violence in Tibet in 2008 that was the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades. [Ibid]

Beijing Punishes Families of Tibetan Self-Immolators

Tibetan activist Woeser wrote in in the New York Times that Beijing’s war on self-immolation has included harsh measures against “accessories,” meaning family members and relatives, villagers and even the monastery associated with any self-immolator. Several hundred Tibetans have been arrested and imprisoned; many more have been given stiff fines and even barred from making pilgrimages to holy sites. [Source: Tsering Woeser, New York Times, March 3, 2014]

Chinese poet and blogger Tang Danhong wrote: “As soon as anyone defies the will of the Party, even if the dissenter never hurt anyone aside from burning his or her own person, the Party has the right and the power to condemn the self-immolator’s family–women and children young and old–to hunger and cold. The Party has the right and the power to cut off sympathizers and supporters for these women and children, young and old. The Party has the right and the power to cut off the warmth and comfort of the neighbors of these women and children, young and old, even after they’ve already suffered such a bitter loss. [Source: “Fire Between the Dark and the Cold” by Tang Danhong, Hong Kong’s Open Magazine, January 2013, China Digital Times, January 9, 2013. Tang Danhong is a poet and filmmaker from Chengdu, Sichuan. She currently lives in Israel. She blogs at Moments of Samsara ]

Among the measures taken by Beijing against people associated with the self immolators are: 1) “All subsistence stipends, disaster relief assistance, and other public welfare policies enjoyed by the self-immolator’s family are to be revoked. The family is hereby permanently disqualified from such programs. All government financed and implemented projects are to be cancelled in the town of the self-immolator. Any and all current or planned projects are to be adjusted and cancelled.

2) “Immediately investigate the identities of any local Tibetan who visits the home of the self-immolator’s family to offer condolences or donate money… Public security organs are to immediately take action and enact an intense crackdown. Any civilian or monk who visits the family of a “self-immolator” to give condolences or donate money must undergo criticism and reeducation. Revoke subsistence stipends, disaster relief assistance, and all other public welfare policies enjoyed by those who organize trips to family homes or represent civilians or monks on visits family members.

3) “Revoke subsistence stipends, disaster relief assistance, and all other public welfare policies for any village or temple which organizes large-scale donation or fundraising events. The village community and/or temple(s) are hereby disqualified from applying for any government financed or implemented project for three years. Any and all current or planned projects are to be adjusted and cancelled.

4) “Those leading or organizing the visitation of civilians or monks to deliver condolences to family members of a “self-immolator” or institute apportionment… must be quickly and severely punished in accordance with the law. If the Party secretary or village head participates… immediately enact a political reshuffling of the town government. If any activities were organized by living Buddhas of local temples or management committees, the offending temple is to be closed in accordance with the law.

5) “Cadres found ignoring Party discipline and state law who visit family members of “self-immolators” to offer condolences or donate money are to be immediately fired from their public post and transferred to the custody of judicial organs to be dealt with according to the law.

“Terminate,” “shall not arrange,” “intense crackdown,” “political reshuffling,” “close temples,” “fire from public post,” “transfer to judicial organs”… It’s too powerful! Its message for us: The Party not only can wipe out any free-willed person, but it can also wipe out that person’s entire family. It can even crush anyone who respects the rebel’s actions or feels compassion for the rebel’s family.”

Tibetans Linked to Self-immolation Charged with Murder

In January 2013, Chinese courts convicted eight Tibetans on the grounds that they incited others set fire to themselves, the first such prosecutions to become publicly known, showing Beijing's intent to tackle the sel-immolation problem by punishing the protesters and their supporters. Associated Press reported: “The convictions, reported by the official Xinhua News agency, also appear aimed at shoring up Beijing's claims that such protests against Chinese rule are instigated by outsiders with ulterior motives, rather than being homegrown demonstrations.“A court in Aba prefecture in Sichuan sentenced Lorang Konchok, 40, to death with a two-year reprieve and gave his nephew Lorang Tsering, 31, a 10-year prison sentence for their roles in encouraging eight people to self-immolate in 2012, three of whom died from their burns, Xinhua said. Both were charged with murder. Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life in prison. [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press January 31, 2013 /=]

“In a separate report, Xinhua said a county court in Gannan prefecture in Gansu province sentenced six ethnic Tibetans to between three and 12 years in prison for their roles in the self-immolation of a local resident in October. Four of them were convicted of murder after they obstructed police efforts to retrieve the body of a self-immolator, who was still alive when police put out flames but died without receiving timely medical treatment, Xinhua said. The other two were found guilty of public disturbance for causing chaos at the scene, Xinhua said. /=\

“Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Lorangs "pushed innocent people onto the road of self-immolations and the road of no return" to further what the government says is the Dalai Lama's goal to split Tibet from China. "We hope through the sentencing of these cases, the international community will be able to clearly see the evil and malicious methods used by the Dalai clique in the self-immolations and condemn their crimes," Hong said. /=\

“Xinhua said Lorang Konchok met with one self-immolator the day before he set himself on fire. It said he recorded the man's personal information, took his photos and promised to spread word of his self-immolation overseas while conveying his last words to his family. Xinhua said five other people goaded by the pair to self-immolate did not do so, either because they changed their minds or because police intervened. Earlier in month, Xinhua reported that police in Qinghai province arrested a Tibetan monk who attempted to self-immolate last November and another Tibetan man who allegedly encouraged him. The men were arrested on charges of jeopardizing public safety and murder. /=\

Monastery in Aba Sealed off after Monk Suicide

In April 2011, Edward Wong wrote in New York Times: “Security officers have placed an important Tibetan monastery in Sichuan Province under lockdown after a young monk committed suicide by setting himself on fire on March 16 to protest Chinese policies in Tibetan areas, according to a report released late Monday by a Tibet advocacy group based outside China. The monastery, Kirti, is one of the most important centers of learning in the region. The report by the group, the International Campaign for Tibet, which has a network of contacts inside Tibetan areas, said that a barbed wire fence was being built behind the monastery, and that armed security officers inside the compound were preventing monks from leaving and food from being delivered.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, April 12, 2011]

“All movement of monks is restricted and monks are even being prevented from burning incense for religious rituals,” the report said. The International Campaign for Tibet said the younger brother and uncle of the monk who killed himself had disappeared and were presumably detained. The group’s report also said officials had begun a “patriotic education” campaign within the monastery. [Ibid]

In May Reuters reported, ‘security forces have detained about 300 Tibetan monks from a monastery in southwestern China for a month amid a crackdown sparked by a monk's self-immolation, two exiled Tibetans and a prominent writer said, citing sources there. Tension in Aba prefecture, a heavily ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province, have risen to their highest levels since protests turned violent in March 2008, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, and were put down by police and paramilitary units.” [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, May 23, 2011]

“The monks from Aba's Kirti monastery, home to about 2,500 monks, were taken into custody on April 21 on military trucks, according to two exiled monks and a writer, who said their information was based on separate accounts from witnesses who live in Aba. The detentions come as China's ruling Communist Party celebrates 60 years since the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet, and underscores the government's struggle to win the hearts and minds of Tibetan people across the country.” [Ibid]

Kirti Rinpoche, the head of the Kirti monastery, told Reuters that it was the first time that Chinese security forces had seized such a large number of monks at a time, and that he had no information on their whereabouts. "The situation is getting more and more repressive," said Kirti Rinpoche, who is based in India's Dharamsala, the seat of the exiled Tibetan government, and receives his information through a network of contacts inside Aba. "The restrictions imposed on the monastery and the monks are getting more intensified. It's literally a suffocating situation where monks are not allowed to do anything at all," he added. [Ibid]

“The spike in tension in Aba stems from the self-immolation of Phuntsog, a 21-year-old monk, on March 16, in apparent protest against government controls,” Reuters reported. “Instead of putting out the flames, Chinese police beat the young monk, creating huge resentment in the monastery, according to exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The Aba government said in late April that after the burning incident, it had decided to give monks "legal education," due to the "illegal activities" committed by some monks that included visiting prostitutes, getting drunk, gambling and pornography, state news agency Xinhua news agency reported.” [Ibid]

“Chinese security forces clashed with residents who were trying to prevent the monks from being taken away for "re-education," according to Tibetan sources. "The people didn't want the authorities to arrest the monks, so they started sitting outside the monastery to protect it day and night," said prominent Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser, who said her information was based on witness accounts. "But the troops let out dogs to bite the people and after that, they beat them too." [Ibid]

“Authorities have stepped up "patriotic re-education" campaigns at Kirti, in an effort to stamp out separatist sentiment and allegiance to the Dalai Lama. "During the 'patriotic re-education' sessions, monks are taught reasons why they should not keep any pictures of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and then made to repeat them," said an exiled Tibetan monk, Kanyag Tsering, who gets his information through a network of contacts inside Aba.” [Ibid]

Kirti Monastery and Town of Aba under Siege After Self-Immolations

In October 2011, AFP reported: “Residents of the Kirti monastery---one of the most important in Tibetan Buddhism---have been living under these siege-like conditions since a young monk set light to himself in protest at religious repression in March and died. Since then, rights groups say five monks have burned themselves to death at the monastery in the small town of Aba, where a Buddhist nun this week became the first woman to self-immolate in a dramatic escalation of the protests. [Source: Robert Saiget, AFP, October 18, 2011]

Hours after the death of the nun Tenzin Wangmo, two AFP journalists gained rare access to the town in Sichuan province, high on the Tibetan plateau and famous for its centuries-old Buddhist temples. Police, many carrying riot shields and armed with clubs and iron, lined the streets of the town, which has a population of around 20,000 mainly ethnic Tibetans who say their culture is being eroded by China's government.

Large groups of soldiers in camouflage carried automatic rifles, metal rods with spiked tips and fire extinguishers, while police buses, trucks and armoured personnel carriers blocked the streets. Shops and restaurants remained open and people went about their daily business on the streets of Aba, but police were checking all vehicles moving in and out of the town, slowing traffic through the main street to a crawl.

AFP's reporters were unable to gain access to the Kirti monastery, but saw large groups of police stationed outside the sprawling complex, as red-robed monks walked around inside.Campaign groups Free Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) say there used to be more than 2,000 monks living in the monastery, but the number has now dwindled to fewer than 1,000. They say that in recent months hundreds of monks have left the monastery, some of them taken away by authorities to undergo compulsory "patriotic re-education" programmes, and that the recent spate of self-immolations is a sign of the desperation they feel.

The latest government crackdown in the area was sparked by the death in March of Phuntsog, a young Kirti monk who set himself on fire on the third anniversary of anti-Chinese riots that shook Lhasa in March 2008, the bloodiest in Tibet in 20 years. His death sparked mass protests in Aba and the surrounding area, known as Aba county.

In September 2011, China jailed three monks for between 10 and 13 years for helping Phuntsog to burn himself to death, sparking an international outcry.Few, if any, foreign journalists have gained access to the town since then and AFP's reporters were briefly detained by police, who confiscated one camera and deleted photographs of police and the military presence. "You can take pictures of all the scenery you want, but you cannot take pictures here," one policeman said. "You are free to leave. You must not stop until you have left (Aba) county."

Trials of Tibetan Monks in Self-Immolation Death

In August 2011, AP reported, “Trials opened in the cases of three Tibetan Buddhist monks charged with murder in western China over the self-immolation death of a colleague in what was described as a political protest. The March 16 death of Rigzin Phuntsog, 16, was seen by fellow monks and observers as a political protest against China’s heavy-handed controls on Tibetan Buddhism and provoked a standoff between security forces and monks. [Source: AP, August 29, 2011]

Chinese authorities accuse two monks, Tsering Tenzin and Tenchum, of plotting, instigating, and assisting in the self-immolation. A third, Drongdru, is accused of moving and hiding the injured monk, preventing him from receiving emergency treatment for 11 hours and eventually leading to his death. The monks went on trial at the Maerkang County People’s Court in Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture said. monk, Phuntsog, The court’s verdict contradicted earlier assertions by rights groups that monks at the Kirti monastery had rescued Phuntsog from police who began to beat him after extinguishing the flames.

The monastery where the incident occurred, Ngaba Kirti in Sichuan province, is under tight guard by security forces who are accused by pro-Tibetan groups overseas of beating onlookers and detaining monks. The area is off-limits to foreign journalists. The circumstances surrounding the monk’s death remain murky, and in June, China rejected pressure from a U.N. human rights panel to provide information about more than 300 of Kirti’s monks whose whereabouts it said are unknown since the monastery was raided in April.

The Foreign Ministry said only that monks were undergoing “legal education”---a reference to hours-long compulsory political lectures on the basics of the Chinese constitution, criminal law and regulations on religious affairs.

Monk Sentenced to 11 years in Prison in Connection with the Self-Immolation

Rights activists yesterday criticized China for jailing a Tibetan lama for 11 years over the death of a young monk who set himself alight, with one calling his prosecution “purely political.” A court in Sichuan convicted the lama for “intentional homicide” and said he had prevented the wounded monk from getting medical treatment, Xinhua news agency said. [Source: AFP, August 31, 2011]

Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said the cases were politically motivated.”This is a patently unjust verdict at the outcome of a purely political prosecution,” he said.”It comes against a background of unprecedented persecution against the monastery of Kirti, from where the government has already taken into arbitrary detention dozens of monks,” he said.

‘sentencing a monk who appears to have only attempted to protect Phuntsog after his solitary act only compounds the agony for Kirti monks,” Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet said. “By doing so the Chinese government aims to deflect attention from the real reasons for the self-immolation, which was an expression of anguish and sacrifice due to intense repression including new measures to suppress religious practice in Tibetan areas,” she said.

The dead monk was a disciple and nephew of Drongdru, who kept him hidden for 11 hours before he was taken to hospital, where he later died, it said. During the trial, Drongdru, 46, pleaded guilty to the charges, voiced regret for his role and declined his right to appeal, Xinhua said. Xinhua said he was just 16 years old at the time of his death, though reports at the time varied, but the International Campaign for Tibet put the monk’s age at 20.

China Calls Tibetan Immolators Criminals, Outcasts

In March 2012, AP reported: “Chinese officials sought to discredit Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest China's rule over their region, calling them outcasts, criminals and mentally ill people manipulated by the exiled Dalai Lama. "Some of the suicides are committed by clerics returning to lay life, and they all have criminal records or suspicious activities. They have a very bad reputation in society," said Wu Zegang, an ethnic Tibetan who is the government's top administrator in Aba. [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, March 8, 2011]

Wu told reporters in Beijing that the self-immolations were "orchestrated and supported" by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence forces. He said that before setting themselves on fire, the immolators shouted "independence for Tibet and other slogans that aim to divide the nation."

At a meeting of the Tibetan delegation to the National People's Congress in Beijing, a reporter asked whether the region's leaders thought the Dalai Lama should himself self-immolate, referencing alleged online calls for the spiritual leader to do so. Padma Choling, Tibet's governor, said he didn't think anyone should set themselves on fire. "No matter who self-immolates, it is an unhuman and immoral act," Choling said. "If the Dalai immolates himself, that's his business and has nothing to do with me but regardless of who it is, I do not advocate it. Life is precious. I do not hope that anyone will self-immolate. What's the point?"

Li Changping, a member of the Communist Party committee that governs Sichuan, who recently visited Aba and Sichuan's Ganzi prefecture, where several immolations have also been reported, said that "about 20 or so" people have set themselves on fire in Sichuan in the past two years.

China blames supporters of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations and anti-government protests that have led to the deaths of an unknown number of Tibetans at the hands of police. Leaders from Xinjiang also struck a hard line on the violent separatism that periodically hits the Central Asian border region. They said stability was a precondition for Xinjiang's No. 1 goal---development---and vowed to smash what regional Communist Party secretary Zhang Chunxian called "rotten eggs and bad elements.""When an event occurs, we resolutely smash it. When an incident occurs, we also smash it," Zhang told reporters after the Xinjiang delegation met to discuss how the government's latest policies will raise employment and improve the region's economy.

In January 2012, Xinhua announced that senior officials in Tibet had promised "stepped-up efforts to strengthen the management of monasteries in the fight against the Dalai Lama group". Basang Toinzhub, a senior political adviser in the region, said advisers would help the government push forward patriotic and legal education among monks and nuns---one of the policies critics say has fostered resentment among the clergy. His remarks came a day after Chen Quanguo, Tibet's Communist party chief, made a similar promise.

China: 'Tibetan Monk's Body Paraded after Self-immolation'

In January 2012, Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian: “The body of a monk who burned himself to death has been paraded through the streets of a town in north-west China by hundreds of Tibetans, it has been reported. The dead man was the third Tibetan to set fire to himself in three days and the 15th over the last year. The monk---named as 42-year-old Sopa - was from Qinghai province, previously untouched by the spate of self-immolations. Citing an unnamed source inside Tibet, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that he climbed a local hill to burn incense and pray before distributing leaflets saying he would act "not for his personal glory but for Tibet and the happiness of Tibetans". [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 9, 2012]

Another source told RFA that hundreds of Tibetans later marched to the police station in Dari, Golog prefecture, where officials had taken his body. The police initially refused demands to hand over the remains, but relented after protesters smashed windows and doors. RFA said security in the area was tightened after the incident. It was not possible to verify the protest independently. Calls to the police and government in Dari rang unanswered. But AFP said official news agency Xinhua had confirmed the death, although they identified the man as Nyage Sonamdrugyu, aged 40.

Most of the previous cases took place in Sichuan province's Aba county, where tensions between authorities and the large Tibetan population have run high since the unrest of 2008.

Image Sources: Tibet Uprising.org

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015


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