Category Archives: Self-Immolation Crisis

Two More Self-Immolations in Rebkong

If Xi really is thinking about overhauling restrictions on religion in Tibet and Xinjiang, now would be a really good time to get to work on that. The most recent burning, via Phayul:

Sangdag Tsering, 24, set himself on fire in front of a local Chinese government office in Dokar Mo town in the Rebkong region of eastern Tibet at around 7 pm (local time). Tsering, father of a three-year-old son, passed away at the site of his protest.

His self-immolation came just hours after a Tibetan woman, Chagmo Kyi passed away after setting herself on fire outside a Chinese office in Rongwo town.

Sources tell Phayul that earlier in the day, Chinese authorities summoned a large meeting of local Tibetans and gave out clear orders, barring them from visiting families of self-immolators to pay their respect and condolences.

Chinese security personnel arrived at the scene and tried to douse the flames but Sangdag Tsering succumbed to his injuries.

“Monks from two nearby monasteries and thousands of local Tibetans gathered at the protest site and carried his body to the Gonshul Sangag Mindrol Dhargeyling for his cremation,” Wangchuk said.

The same source added that Sangdag Tsering had off late repeatedly expressed his frustration over the lack of freedom in Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s absence, and the continuing wave of self-immolations in Tibet.

About a week back, he had written a short poem espousing loyalty to Tibet and emailed it to a friend.

The last two lines of the poem written in Tibetan reads: “The brave men of the snow mountains, Don’t forget your loyalty to Tibet.”

And from RFA:

Chakmo Kyi, a taxi driver, burned herself and died at the doorstep of the tax office in Rebgong’s capital Rongwo at around 4 p.m. on Saturday, triggering a clash for her charred body by local residents and Chinese security forces, sources said, citing local contacts.

Two hours later, thousands of monks and local people gathered at a cremation site in Rongwo for her funeral and chanted prayers for the long life of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.

“When Chinese security forces arrived to take away her body, local Tibetans in large numbers repossessed the body from the hands of the security forces,” Sonam, a Tibetan living in exile who had contact in the region, told RFA’s Tibetan service.

“After that, monks of Rongwo monastery and local Tibetans, estimated at thousands, took the body to the Dhongya-la cremation site. Many Chinese officials were present and observed the large gathering,” Sonam said.

Free Tibet said there was a heavy security presence in Rongwo, which has been the scene of several huge protests this year, as well as a growing number of self-immolations.

At least 20 trucks, each with 20 armed police standing in the back, are stationed at intersections throughout the town, the group said.

There are reports of cars, each with about five government officials inside, positioned every 20 paces along most streets, monitoring the population, Free Tibet said.

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Party Congress Ends, Self-Immolations Continue

Two Tibetans self-immolated today in Rebkong while Xi Jinping, a thousand miles away in Beijing, gets used to his new office (via Phayul):

Adding to the alarming escalation in self-immolation protests inside Tibet, a second Tibetan set herself on fire today in an apparent protest against China’s occupation of Tibet.

Tangzin Dolma, 23, set herself ablaze at around 12 pm (local time) today in Tsemo region of Rebkong, eastern Tibet.

Exile sources are saying that Tibetans from around the region started gathering in Tsemo upon hearing news of the self-immolation protest.

This is the second self-immolation that took place in Tibet today. Kharbum Gyal, a teenaged Tibetan set himself on fire in the same region earlier today and passed away in his protest.

The Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper I’ve never heard of, has a good op-ed on that subject:

It is an eloquent testimony to our skewed priorities that we in South Asia devote reams of newsprint on the American presidential election and ignore the spate of self-immolations in Tibet.

Most of the 63 self-immolations share certain similarities. Those who died chose to set themselves ablaze outside famous monasteries or public places. Their choice of venue suggests the self-immolators consciously sought to turn their death into a public spectacle, in the hope of conveying to both the people and police the meaning of their action. Yet the audience could not interpret their action in any way other than as a protest against the Chinese government, for they shouted, as they turned into a raging ball of fire, slogans for freedom or demanding the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Some self-immolators chose to record their statements before walking to their chosen site of death. In their English rendering, these testimonials are remarkable for the absence of fear of death in them, their willingness to undergo searing pain, and their expression of anguish at the repression of their people. For instance, Lama Soepa, before lighting fire to his body doused in inflammable liquid, was recorded saying, “I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness…”

In a piece for The Guardian in 2005, Eagleton wrote, “The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it. But both believe that a life is only worth living if it contains something worth dying for.”

The self-immolator is as much Eagleton’s martyr, as both kill themselves without harming anyone else through their act. Indeed, the statements of Tibetans who burnt themselves to death are remarkable for not preaching vengeance against their tormentors, for not even asking those alive to emulate them. They offer their bodies as a voluntary sacrifice for preserving the cultural unity of Tibet.

Thus, in setting their bodies on fire they are in reality cremating themselves — and also mocking their tormentors who, unable to establish supremacy over the hearts and minds of Tibetans, forever seek to control their bodies.

The feared erosion of their legitimacy prompts the Chinese to take retributive action against the monasteries to which the dead were affiliated. This in itself balloons the number of people willing to self-immolate, creating a crisis of legitimacy for Beijing.

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Self-Immolation Epicenter Shifting from Ngaba to Rebkong?

Perhaps in response to the Party Congress, another cluster of self-immolations has broken out in Amdo. This one seems centered on Rebkong, as the latest example shows (via Phayul):

In more heartbreaking news coming out of Tibetan, a second Tibetan set himself on fire today in the Rebkong region of eastern Tibet.

Sources are confirming with Phayul that the Tibetan identified as Nyingchag Bum, 20, passed away in his protest in Dowa region of Rebkong.

“Nyingchag Bum from Yonlag Dewa set himself on fire on the main street of Dowa town,” Geshe Rongwo Lobsang Nyendak, a Tibetan member of parliament told Phayul. “Monks from the nearby Dowa Monastery carried his charred body inside the Monastery premises.”

In confirmed reports coming in, Nyingkar Tashi, 24, who set himself on fire this afternoon in Dro Rongwo has passed away in his fiery protest.

Various sources are telling Phayul that the situation around Rebkong region is “very tense” following the five self-immolations in the region this month alone, including two today.

A heavy deployment of Chinese armed forces is also being reported in the region.

This is in addition to other self-immolations over the last few days, in Ngaba and Tsoe:

Another Tibetan teenager burned himself to death Saturday in protest against Chinese rule in Gansu province in the eighth self-immolation this week, sources said.

As he burned, he called for “freedom for Tibetans, the return of [Tibet's spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom of languages,” the source said.

Monks and other local Tibetans had wanted to take Gonpo Tsering to hospital but his condition was too critical and he was instead taken home, where he died, the source said.

After the burning, “Chinese security bureau officers arrived at the scene and they started investigating and questioning the monks and local Tibetans,” the source said.

The surge of articles on China caused by the Party Congress has resulted in a lot more press for the self-immolations than they had seen recently, including this good one from the NYT on the walls built between Tibetans and Chinese:

But while Tibetan rights advocates have long been inured to impassive officials, they are increasingly troubled by the deafening silence among Chinese intellectuals and the liberal online commentariat, a group usually eager to call out injustice despite the perils of bucking China’s authoritarian strictures.

“The apathy is appalling,” said Zhang Boshu, a political philosopher who lost his job at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences three years ago for criticizing the government’s human rights record.

The silence, some say, is exposing an uncomfortable gulf between Tibetans and China’s Han majority, despite decades of propaganda that seeks to portray the nation as a harmonious family comprising 56 contented minorities.

“It’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about,” said Wang Lixiong, a prominent Tibetologist and social theorist whose writings have drawn the unwelcome attention of public security personnel, including a contingent of police officers who kept him sequestered inside his Beijing apartment this week as the party congress got under way.

Mr. Wang and others say a subtle undercurrent of antipathy toward Tibetans suffuses the worldview of educated Chinese. That sentiment, they say, has been nurtured by official propaganda that paints Tibetans as rebellious, uncultured and unappreciative of government efforts to raise their standard of living.

One prominent filmmaker, speaking more candidly than usual, but only under the condition of anonymity, noted that many Chinese are alternately fascinated and repulsed by Tibetans. “We Han love their exotic singing and dancing, but we also see them as barbarians seeking to split the nation apart,” he said.

Ms. Woeser said that even her most open-minded friends are confounded by Tibetans, with their fierce religious devotion, their demands for greater autonomy and their aching for the return of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regularly dismisses as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Chinese intellectuals, she added, see Tibet as a forbidding, restive land, but also inseparable from China. “The Han are obsessed with issues of sovereignty,” said Ms. Woeser, who is married to Mr. Wang, the critic barred from leaving his home. “They want to claim Tibet as part of China, but they are not terribly concerned with the Tibetan people or their culture.”

Finally, a video from Kunleng showing the size of one of the protests in Rebkong:

This took place after one of the self-immolations. Watch the view at about a minute in, when the camera turns to show the size of the crowd behind the film-taker.

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Another Self-Immolation in Rebkong; UN Chides China

News of the latest one, via ICT:

A young Tibetan man called Dorjee Lhundrup set fire to himself today in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) in Qinghai province, the Tibetan area of Amdo. Dorjee Lhundrup was a farmer in his mid-twenties from Chuma village in Rebkong. He had two children, a two-year old daughter and a four-year old son.

Dorjee Lhundrup self-immolated on the morning of November 4 on Taglung South Street, some kilometers west of Rongwo monastery. He died immediately afterwards.

According to a Tibetan in exile who is in contact with Tibetans in the area: “Many people gathered in the place where he set fire to himself, and then a number of monks went there too. They protected his corpse from Chinese police and troops, and brought him to the monastery where monks and laypeople prayed for him. His father spoke, and many people were crying. Dorjee Lhundrup was cremated on the side of a hill behind the monastery. Traditionally only high lamas were cremated there. Sonam Dargye, who self-immolated in March, was also cremated there.”

RFA reports that large protests followed, and has a few pictures that you should click through to see:

Thousands of Tibetans staged protests against Chinese rule after another self-immolation death Sunday in a Tibetan-populated area in Qinghai province, triggering a massive security buildup, according to sources.

The dawn self-immolation attracted a large crowd of monks and residents to the township, with many of them placing the “khata,” the traditional Tibetan scarf, on his charred remains as a mark of respect for the father of two, one source said.

Later, several thousand Tibetans converged at a hill site near the key Rongwo monastery as Dorje Dhondup’s body was taken there for prayers and immediate cremation to prevent the Chinese authorities from interfering with funeral rites, the source said.

“People shouted ‘Kyi! Kyi!,’ a Tibetan battle cry, and others raised slogans at the Dhongya-la cremation site where thousands of people gathered to mourn and pay their respect for the deceased and stand in solidarity with the family of Dorjee Dhondup,” the source said.

His family members pleaded with the crowd to end the protest for fear over their safety, saying Dorje Lungdup set fire to himself to “protect Tibet’s interest” and underscore demands for the return of the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1958 following a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

“Soon after the self immolation incident, security forces poured into the town and patrolled the streets and the situation was tense,” according to the source.

This comes just days after the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights finally weighed in on the situation:

“Social stability in Tibet will never be achieved through heavy security measures and suppression of human rights,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a rare statement critical of China.

Pillay “urged Chinese authorities to promptly address the longstanding grievances that have led to an alarming escalation in desperate forms of protest, including self-immolations in Tibetan areas”.

She also urged the government to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and to release all those detained for exercising those rights.

The Chinese foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.

I shouldn’t think it would be.

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“China powerless to prevent rising tide of Tibetan self-immolations”

The title of this WaPo article isn’t exactly correct, in that China actually does have the power to stop the self-immolations, but resolutely refuses to use it.

“Almost all of them were born after the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the Cultural Revolution,” Lobsang Sangay, the political leader of the refugee community’s India-based government-in-exile said of the perpetrators. “They have grown up in the Chinese system, received Chinese education. They are the primary beneficiaries of whatever the Chinese government gave them. They are saying ‘this is not what we want.’ ”

Last week alone, seven people doused themselves in gasoline and set fire to themselves in eastern Tibet, including two cousins in their twenties who called for “freedom for Tibet” before setting themselves ablaze in front of a government building. At least 62 people have set themselves on fire inside Tibet since February 2009, and all but nine are known to have died, the Free Tibet group says.

China says it rescued the Tibetan people from medieval serfdom under the Dalai Lama’s theocratic rule when it took over in 1950 and in recent years has poured money into the region to build roads, a high-speed railway and projects such as rural electrification.

It blames the self-immolations on the old regime’s attempts to split the country. “This is shameful and should be condemned,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference last week.

But many Tibetans appear to view the perpetrators as heroes, sometimes trying to prevent Chinese police removing their bodies, laying ceremonial scarves at protest sites, or paying tribute to their families.

“Tibetans are responding to China’s repressive policies, to seeing their neighbors, friends and families attacked, harassed, beaten and jailed,” said Lhadon Tethong, director of the Tibet Action Institute. “The self-immolations are a response to escalating repression, which the Chinese meet with more repression, and we are in this vicious cycle.”

“Local authorities are under pressure from the central government to put an end to this,” said Elliot Sperling, a Tibet expert at Indiana University. “But this is a form of protest that doesn’t need a conspiracy, it just needs a person. These fliers seem to me to be somewhat desperate.”

The protests have spread because the “tactic is resonating,” said Sperling, although some activists said the recent spurt could be linked to the imminent party congress.

One of the men who set himself ablaze last week had called a friend the day before and asked when the congress was taking place, said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, adding that the man had complained that the Chinese government was doing nothing to improve conditions in Tibet.

“This is the first direct evidence we’ve had that Tibetans are factoring this into the decision to self-immolate so close to party congress time,” she said.

In September, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke paid a rare visit to Aba, the restive area where many of the self-immolations have taken place, and visited monasteries. He called the incidents “very deplorable.”

“We implore the Chinese to really meet with the representatives of the Tibetan people to address and reexamine some of the policies that have led to some of the restrictions and the violence and the self-immolations,” Locke told an online forum Monday. “We very much believe there should be respect for the culture and religion of the Tibetan people, as well as the language of the Tibetan people.”

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Self-Immolation Crisis Accelerates Again

After a summer with occasional breaks from the self-immolation spree, it looks like this autumn is starting to move as fast as the last one. Following a cluster of self-immolations in the Labrang area this week (at the monastery itself and the nearby towns of Sangke, Amchog and Bora), it looks like the rumors of two self-immolations in Nagchu have been verified. Via Free Tibet:

Two young Tibetan men, cousins Tsepo, 20, and Tenzin, 25, set fire to themselves in a protest in their village north of Lhasa at approximately 4pm on Thursday 25 October 2012. Tsepo is reported to have died on the way to the hospital. Tenzin was taken away by government officials; his wellbeing and whereabouts are unknown.

There have been seven self-immolations across a wide area of Tibet this week, the highest number in one week since these fiery protests began in 2011.

The cousins called out for independence for Tibet, for all Tibetans to unite as brothers and sisters, and for the return of the Dalai Lama as they set fire to themselves in front of a government building in their village.

Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said:

“It has taken two days for information about this latest protest to emerge. Tibetans in Driru County are being intimidated in both visible and invisible ways.

“Chinese state security forces have been deployed in large numbers across Driru County. The internet and telephones are often blocked and, when they are working, Tibetans are afraid to talk about what is happening because they fear that their communications are being monitored by the government. Given recent disappearances and convictions of up to seven years imprisonment related to charges of sharing information, their fears are likely to be justified.

Meanwhile back in Gansu, the government is showing its typical lack of understanding of Tibetans while trying to put a stop to the self-immolations- by offering to pay informants who tell the government about planned self-immolations (translation by ICT):

Because of the sabotage by separatist forces in our territory and abroad, and because of the Dalai clique, there were four self-immolation incidents that happened in our prefecture. Those seriously impacted the situation of social harmony and the people’s happy lives.

The self-immolation incidents that happened recently are the political sabotage by the Dalai clique to separate China and sabotage the ethnic unity. All citizens must realize the situation, love your life, and take the initiative to stop this kind of criminal action. To expose the black hand behind the scene in a timely and correct manner, to crack down on such illegal criminal action under the law, and defend the harmonious situation in our prefecture, the police department decided:

1. Anyone who reports and informs the legal authorities on the people who plan, incite to carry out, control and lure people to commit self-immolation will be awarded 50,000RMB.

2. Anyone who correctly informs on the black hand who is behind the four self-immolation incidents that have already happened will be awarded 200,000RMB.

Slandering the Dalai Lama and constructing elaborate conspiracy theories about ‘black hands’ behind the self-immolations is easy and plays well in Beijing, but does exactly nothing to address the actual self-immolation crisis itself. If anything, notices like this could exacerbate these issues.

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“New images from Tibet depict self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen in Labrang today and aftermath”

Before I could even post news of the first self-immolation in Labrang itself, a second occurred. Via ICT, a set of images taken at the scene. Be warned, they’re gruesome.

A remarkable new set of images from Labrang today depict the self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen and its aftermath, showing the Tibetan farmer running down the street ablaze, and a buildup of troops in confrontation with local people trying to protect Dorje Rinchen.

The self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen has been confirmed by the Chinese state media today (October 23) and is the second self-immolation at Labrang in eastern Tibet in two days.

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“Burning Tibetan Charges At Police”

From RFA, news of the 61st Tibetan self-immolation:

Lhamo Kyap, a 27-year-old father of two young daughters, torched himself and ran in flames towards a group of plainclothes policemen who tried to stop him outside the Bora monastery in Sangchu (Xiahe, in Chinese) county in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the sources said.

“At 2 p.m., he set himself on fire near the monastery and ran towards the monastery,” one source told RFA’s Tibetan service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“When he encountered some policemen in plainclothes, who were pretending to circumambulate the monastery and tried to stop him, he charged at them,” the source said. “They avoided him.”

Monks from the Bora monastery and hundreds of local residents converged at the area and took his body to the monastery where prayers were held, according to another source inside Tibet. The body was later taken to his home.

“Several hundred residents of Bora area rushed to the scene the moment they heard about the incident. They brought his body from the monastery to his home, chanting prayers in chorus,” the source said.

Lhamo Kyap left behind a wife, Dorjee Kyi, and two daughters under 10 years old—Pema Tso and Drukmo Tso, the source said.

Note that this is happening in spite of the special meeting in Dharamsala just a few weeks ago, which explicitly called for a stop to the self-immolations. This isn’t about supporting or opposing the acts, it’s about if/when China will change the conditions that have created and sustained this crisis.

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Confirmed: Another Self-Immolation in Amdo

This one also took place in Tsoe, near the site of the previous self-immolation at Dokar Monastery. From BBC:

Tamdrin Dorjee has been identified as the grandfather of the seventh Gungthang Rinpoche, who Tibetan Buddhists believe is the reincarnation of an important religious figure.

Kate Saunders from the International Campaign for Tibet told the BBC that monks from the Tsoe monastery and local people were attending a prayer service for him.

She said they had received reports that security deployments had been stepped up in the region and transportation has been shut down in the city of Tsoe – considered by Tibetans to be in north-eastern Tibet – for several hours.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Gungthang Rinpoche connection- he’s revered in the area for his role in the rebuilding of Labrang Monastery after the Cultural Revolution. I’ve been to the area twice, and pictures of the young Gungthang Rinpoche (currently 10 years old) are posted prominently in pretty much every Tibetan-owned shop, hotel, and restaurant.

A little bit more from RFA:

Security forces moved into the area as monks took his body to his home village, another resident said.

“The monks of Tsoe monastery and Tibetans who reached the site of the self-immolation took the body of Tamdin Dorjee to his home village.”

“At the same time, large numbers of police both in uniform and in plainclothes flooded the area,” the source said.

“The Chinese police also arrived at the home village of Tamdin Dorjee. They had already put restrictions on phones and other lines of communication.”

Photos of the scene obtained by RFA showed security forces on the grounds of the monastery and dozens of monks and bystanders gathering around the Tamdin Dorjee’s burned body to say prayers.

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“Why Does the Number of Tibetan Self-Immolators Vary?”

High Peaks has another really important translation of a Woeser post here. This time the topic is Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and Ani Atse, two Tibetans who have caused a great deal of confusion for the self-immolation tallies over the last few months. Word belatedly broke of their deaths, which were initially attributed to a fire in their home. There have been suspicions that they actually committed self-immolations since then, however, and now Woeser makes a very convincing argument that they should be added to the lists:

On April 6 (the 15th day of the 2nd month according to the Tibetan calendar), their bodies went up in flames inside their wooden home in the Lhagang Township of Dartsedo, Kham, (today’s Kangding County, Garze Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province) while burning butter lamps and praying for all the martyrs who have self-immolated; their dead bodies were still in the position of a person praying. Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche, 45 years of age, was the Rinpoche of the Nyingma monastery, Dragkar monastery, once held the position of the Abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, and had until now been the Abbot of the Lhagang Tibetan Buddhist Institute. Ani Atse was 23 years old and was a nun at Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute.

Not long ago, on July 4, some photos of Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche and Ani Atse were put up on Sina Weibo by Tibetans; it was explained that after the two had self-immolated, the work team and military police stationed in the area tried to conceal the event by making up the story of an accident; simultaneously, they also threatened Tibetan monks and common people that if they revealed this case, their monastery, Buddhist institute and primary school would be closed down. As a result, the monastery management committee had to approve of this fabricated story to avoid such actions.

In June this year, a foreigner who is closely observing the Tibetan self-immolations went to visit Dragkar Monastery in Lhagang Township, Kangding County – the monastery of Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche. Even though the locals did not dare to tell him the truth, they secretly let the visitor film Rinpoche’s photos, which they had saved in their mobile phones and they also took him to the house of the two self-immolators, a simple and crude Tibetan-style wooden, three-room apartment situated on a slope; only a third of their house shows signs of a fire, anyone with a good sense can see that if there had really been an unexpected fire accident, everyone living inside the house would have been able to escape. From this it becomes obvious that Rinpoche and Ani Atse who burned to death inside, purposefully self-immolated.

On Twitter now there are a few reports of another new self-immolation, apparently committed by the grandfather of the current Gungthang Rinpoche, an important reincarnate lama at Labrang Monastery. More on that when it’s confirmed.

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ABC Sneaks Into Tibet

Stephen McDonell from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is the latest journalist to defy a Chinese ban on journalists, and the only one to have done so in months. His report confirms what Tibetans are already loudly telling us through other channels:

McDonell and Robert Barnett were having a lively twitter debate about the ethics of broadcasting this, given the ease with which Chinese authorities can now find the people interviewed. I’m glad to see this footage out there and to have the self-immolation crisis get a bit more international press, but I’m also curious about exactly what happened and what decisions were made regarding the protection of their sources in the video.

Note the telling exchange at the end, when the plainclothes policeman admits that they’re being kicked out not because of some danger they face, but simply because they’re reporting in a Tibetan area.

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Another Self-Immolation in Tsoe

Via Robert Barnett and Woeser, news of yet another self-immolation in Tsoe, present-day Gansu province. Sounds like a layman named Sangye Gyatso- more on that once it gets picked up by news sources.

Also, a blog post by the previous immolator has been translated into English, giving some insight into why he did it in his own words:

The people of the Land of Snow share a common goal of bringing His Holiness the Dalai Lama back to an independent Tibet. But when His Holiness opted for autonomy for Tibet through nonviolent struggle, the six million Tibetans accepted his wishes. However, the Chinese government has not supported his proposal.

Moreover, Tibetans who are concerned about the welfare of the people are subjected to arbitrary arrests and beatings. Tibetans who refuse to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama or accept China’s rule in Tibet are secretly killed or made to disappear.

Since China is uninterested in the well-being of the Tibetan people, we are sharpening our nonviolent movement. We are declaring the reality of Tibet by burning our own bodies to call for freedom of Tibet. Higher beings, please see Tibet. Mother earth, please extend compassion to Tibet. Just world, please uphold the truth.

The pure Land of Snow is now tainted with red blood, where military crackdowns are ceaseless. We as sons and daughters of the Land of Snow will win the battle. We will win the battle through truth, by shooting the arrows of our lives, by using the bow of our mind. Dear brothers and sisters of the Land of Snow, please unite together and prioritize the well being of all Tibetans by putting aside personal issues. Only then can we enjoy equality and freedom.

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“Breaking: Tibetan man dies in self-immolation protest”

Rumors of another self-immolation started appearing on Twitter a few hours ago, and now Phayul has confirmed it- #53, in Nagchu, Tibet:

Sources from inside Tibet, using a popular phone interface programme, have said that Gudrub, 43, torched himself in Nagchu town in central Tibet at around 10 am (local time). He is believed to have passed away at the site of his protest.

Eyewitnesses have said that Gudrup shouted, “Wherever we go, we have no freedom,” “Freedom for Tibet,” “Let His Holiness the Dalai Lama return to Tibet,” before setting himself on fire,” the report said.

“My brothers and sisters of the land of snows, although, looking back at our past, we have nothing but a sense of loss, anger, sadness, and tears, I pray that the coming new year of the Water Dragon brings you health, success, and the fulfillment of aspirations,” Gudrup writes.

“We must distinguish and give prominence to our pride in ourselves as a people and even in the face of loss and suffering, must never lose our courage and spirit in our endeavour to uphold our unity.”

Gudrup is a native of Driru in Kham eastern Tibet and was a writer who read extensively on Tibet’s history.

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“Plea to Stop Burnings Ignored”

As exile Tibetans gather in Dharamsala, another Tibetan has self-immolated in Kham:

Dressed in full Tibetan traditional attire, the man set himself ablaze and shouted slogans against Chinese rule in Dzatoe (Zaduo, in Chinese) county in the Yushul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture before he was taken away by Chinese security forces, the sources said.

The man, whose identity and other personal details were not immediately available, was severely burnt when he was taken away, the sources quoted eyewitnesses as saying.

“While burning, he shouted various slogans—calling for the independence of Tibet, inviting the Dalai Lama and Karmapa (another senior Tibetan Buddhist figure) to Tibet, asking for long life for the Dalai Lama and addressing Lobsang Sangay (the head of the Tibetan government in exile) as the King of Tibet,” one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He walked past several Tibetan shops in Dzatoe county’s shopping complex with his body on fire. The shopkeepers threw water on his burning body but his whole body was engulfed in fire.”

Sources said the latest self-immolation could be linked to recent local Tibetan protests against the shooting of a film by authorities wanting to portray that Tibetans were happy under Chinese rule.

“Few days back, the Chinese authorities coerced the local Tibetans to participate in a shooting of a movie themed on ‘happiness in Tibet,'” a source was quoted as saying by India’s Tibet Express.

“The Tibetans resented it and expressed their unwillingness to participate. This incident had led to protest against the Chinese policy,” the source said.

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“Tibetan Monks Detained in Raid”

An unfortunately Sichuan-styled response to recent protests in Yushu prefecture led the local government to invade Zilkar Monastery and take away several monks, according to RFA:

Hundreds of heavily armed Chinese security forces raided a Tibetan monastery in the northwestern province of Qinghai at the weekend, taking away four monks previously targeted for detention and holding another monk for taking photographs of the raid, Tibetan sources said.

Local Tibetans believe at least three of the monks were picked up during the Saturday raid for providing foreign media outlets with details about two nearby self-immolation protests in June, an India-based Tibetan told RFA, citing sources in the region.

Monks who intervened to stop the detentions were beaten, the sources said.

The fully armed security forces in riot gear surrounded the monastery, the source said, adding, that “they came to detain four monks whose names and other information about them were already known.”

Chinese police conducting the raid were so numerous that they “filled the monastery” and appeared to outnumber the monastery’s own 500 monks, the source said.

Detained in the raid were Lobsang Jinpa, 30; Tsultrim Kalsang, 25; Ngawang Monlam, 30; and Sonam Yignyen, 44.

A fifth monk, Sonam Sherab, 45, was taken into custody when he was observed filming the police operation, the source said.

The article mentions that the monastery was the site of “unauthorized” funeral ceremonies for recent self-immolators.

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“Tibetans clash with police in west China; 1 dead”

Two more Tibetans have self-immolated in Ngaba, and the AP has a story about the violence that followed:

Police in far west China beat a Tibetan man to death during a clash that broke out after two Tibetans set themselves on fire, a U.S. broadcaster said Tuesday, in the worst flaring of violence in the region in months.

The violence occurred Monday in Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture, which has emerged as a center of political activism and the site of dozens of self-immolations in the past few years. The area, home to the influential Kirti Monastery, has been flooded with security forces, but they have been unable to stop the immolation protests.

Radio Free Asia said in an emailed statement that a Kirti monk named Lungtok and another man, identified only as Tashi, set themselves alight Monday evening. It cited a Tibetan in the Aba area who was not identified by name and other unidentified people inside Tibet.

The report said a large number of police tried to clear the immolation site and ended up clashing with Tibetans.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Aba police department said there had been no immolations or confrontations between police and Tibetan locals. “Nothing like that has happened,” said the woman, who like many bureaucrats in China refused to give her name. The phone of the local Communist Party Propaganda Office rang unanswered.

Nearly 50 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China since 2009, with many shouting anti-government slogans and calling for the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. At least 17 were monks or former monks from Kirti, according to an earlier tally from the International Campaign for Tibet.

Monday’s clash with police marked the worst flaring of violence in Sichuan since a series of protests in January that Tibetan activist groups say left six Tibetans dead. The Chinese government said at the time that two rioters were killed.

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“Saga Dawa In Flames” and “Lighthouse for Tibetans”

Two Woeser-related things today- first, a translation of one of her posts by the always-excellent High Peaks Pure Earth:

As Saga Dawa was approaching, the atmosphere in Lhasa and in the whole of Tibet was more tense than before. In fact, no matter whether it is a local festival, a traditional or a foreign imposed one, to use a currently popular saying, they are all, without exception, considered sensitive days.

As expected, the Tibet Daily sententiously published a notice of the Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision Department of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the second day of Saga Dawa, explaining that this notice had been “issued the day before”, but clearly, it had been publicised before Saga Dawa had even started. The notice linked Saga Dawa to the “struggle against separatism” and requested that “the battle against separatism must not be challenged in any way”, “it has to be ensured that during the religious activities of Saga Dawa, large-scale, medium-scale or minor events must be prevented in the entire region”; the use of military language immediately pervaded the originally religious festival with the smell of gunpowder.

It looks as if the notice was directed at the following people: “Party cadres”, “retired cadres”, “Party members, government employees, students” as well as Party members’ “families and personnel” etc. But in fact, it reached out to a broad audience and its rhetoric was highly threatening; in this very short notice, “do not participate” or “not allowed to participate” in Saga Dawa appeared more than three times and even clearly expressed that “if one did, the person will be dealt with in a serious manner and the leaders of the person’s work unit will be held responsible.”

Interestingly, the notice reprimanded “Party cadres”, “retired cadres” in several instances not to “follow the Dalai”, “let alone to openly follow the Dalai” or “leave the country to worship the Dalai”, expressing that “such actions will be dealt with in a strict manner according to the law”. This was perhaps the first time that the local authorities in their official media publicly acknowledged the Dalai Lama’s central position and influence upon Tibetan people, even upon those working within the system, those occupying official positions; they do not only “follow” him in their hearts, they even actively “follow” him, which means that the “struggle against separatism” has lost people’s support, to the extent that the local authorities, completely ignorant of the consequences, publicly violated their own constitution and issued in their media an official order to prohibit a religious festival.

Next, a profile of Woeser by Tienchi Martin-Liao from Sampsonia Way:

“Life will never be the same after March 14, 2008,” Weise, the Tibetan poet and writer, said sadly. She grew up in the Kham area of Sichuan province, and when she speaks Chinese it has a slight touch of the Sichuan dialect. Weise’s real name is Tsering Woeser, and she is internationally known for her writing. For years she has used her fearless pen to report the situation in Tibet and write about the fate of her countrymen and women. Although granted many international awards, Woeser has never been to a foreign country. She is not allowed to leave China to personally accept the honors. Instead, she has become a kind of hostage like Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, and others.

After March 2008, video cameras were installed on the main street [in Lhasa]. Big Brother is watching with high-tech equipment. The police carry machine guns and truncheons, and in their pocket, a cell phone or iPad. Recently they have taken to carrying fire extinguishers on their backs—not to save lives, but to prevent pictures of the person on fire from being disseminated online. Photos like that damage China’s image.

Lots of the self-immolated people are monks because the “Patriotic movement” has taken over all the monasteries in the Autonomous Region as well as in Kham and Amdo. This political campaign started in 1995, but after 2008 it became unendurable. As part of the movement the Chinese national flag must be hoisted and the portraits of the “big Four”—Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao—need to be hung in each temple. Very soon the “big Four” will turn to the “big Five” as Xi Jinping will be added.

Meanwhile the picture of Dalai Lama is forbidden.

Woeser updates her blog every day. One day she posted about the latest self-immolation, a 20 year-old man named Ngawang Norphel. She also wrote about the April 6th double immolation of an uncle and his niece, the 45 year-old Lama, Chugu Tudeng, and the 23 year-old nun, Ani Aze.

“How can you keep all of these terrible stories in your mind and not get ill?” I asked Woeser.

“Maybe I am a Tibetan and a Buddhist,” she muttered.

But the Chinese authority does not think so. In their eyes this delicate woman is dangerous and her blog has been attacked and shut down frequently. Therefore Woeser was told that she had to leave her home in Beijing before the CCP’s 18th Party Congress, although her house is already monitored by police day and night. Woeser obeys the “order” silently. Beijing is not her true home anyway—it is too political and the power struggle inside the Zhongnanhai wall constantly shakes and rattles the city. “I am not unhappy,” she said, “that I can avoid all this and go back to the Tibetan plateau for two months or more.” Well, there are police and soldiers patrolling Lhasa too, but Woeser can stay with her mother and family, and her husband Wang Lixiong can visit her from time to time, bringing the newest political jokes from the capital city.

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“Protests as Monks Are Detained”

RFA is reporting some unrest at Labrang, a traditional hot spot of Tibetan nationalist sentiment, in the wake of the self-immolation in nearby Tsoe:

“Last night, at about 10:00 p.m. local time, Chinese police entered the Tso monastery and detained monks Choephel, Sherab, and Tsondru,” a local source told RFA on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Tsondru was released this morning, but at around 5:00 a.m. Chinese police in about a dozen vehicles arrived and tried to detain 17 other monks suspected of bringing Dolkar Tso to the monastery.”

Monks and local residents then mobbed the police to demand the release of those detained, the source said.

Also on Wednesday, at 1:30 p.m., about 300 monks left the large nearby monastery of Labrang Tashikyil to say prayers and offer condolences at Dolkar Tso’s family home, but were stopped by Chinese officials, the same source said.

“The officials threatened to take action against the monks and to confiscate their vehicles, but the monks left their vehicles and attempted to continue on foot to Dolkar Tso’s home,” he said.

“Staff from the monastery’s management committee came out to plead with them not to leave, and the monks then sat down in front of the gate of the Buddhist Dialectics School near the monastery and began to pray.”

A day earlier, monk Lobsang Tsultrim from the restive Kirti monastery in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) Tibetan prefecture died after setting himself on fire, sources said.

He succumbed to his burns at a hospital in Barkham (in Chinese, Ma’erkang) at around midnight that same day, Kanyag Tsering, a monk living at Kirti’s branch monastery in India, said, citing sources in the region.

“His body was then cremated by the Chinese and his ashes were handed over to his family,” Tsering said.

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“Tibetan mother in her twenties dies after self-immolation today”

ICT has a report about two self-immolations in Amdo over the last few days. One took place in Ngaba, the center of the whole crisis, while the other took place in Tsoe, a nice town on the northeastern edge of Tibet. This whole thing just gets sadder and sadder:

A young mother of two called Dolkar Kyi set fire to herself and died today near Tsoe Gaden Choeling monastery in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in Gansu Province (the Tibetan area of Amdo).

Her death follows the self-immolation yesterday of a 21-year old Kirti monk Lobsang Tsultrim in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) who is believed to have survived.

Dolkar Kyi, who is in her mid-twenties and from a farming family, set fire to herself early this afternoon near a white stupa at Tsoe Gaden Choeling monastery in Tsoe City (Chinese: Hezuo). According to Tibetan sources in exile from her home area, she called out for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, and shouted that there was no freedom in Tibet.

The same Tibetan exile sources said that the first people to witness her self-immolation were elderly people circumambulating the Tsoe Gaden Choeling monastery. Monks then rushed out of the monastery and extinguished the flames.

Monks took her body back to the village where she was born, Tasur, in Nawu Township, which is around 10 kilometers from Tsoe City (eight townships are administered by the authorities in Tsoe). Local people have gathered to pray for her.

Tibetans from the Tsoe area have been active in expressing peaceful opposition to Chinese rule, with known protests in 2008 and 2010 by local people and in particular Tibetan students and schoolchildren.

Twenty-one year old Kirti monk Lobsang Tsultrim set fire to himself yesterday in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) town in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo).

According to Kirti monks in exile in India, Lobsang Tsultrim was heard shouting as he set himself on fire but what he said is not known. The area where he self-immolated has become known locally as ‘Heroes Street’ following Tapey’s self-immolation in February, 2009, the first in Tibet.

Lobsang Tsultrim was born in Ryiwa village, Cha Township in Ngaba, and he joined Kirti monastery when he was very young. He was a classmate of Phuntsog, who self-immolated on March 16, 2011, and is said to have loved playing basketball. Lobsang Tsultrim is said to have suffered a great deal and may have been detained following the crackdown in Ngaba from March 16, 2008, when at least ten Tibetans were killed by Chinese troops after peaceful protest.

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Tenzin Dorjee and Woeser on Self-Immolations

Two good pieces by two Tibetan writers today on the subject of the self-immolation crisis. First, Tenzin Dorjee of SFT refuting a bad op-ed by Stephen Prothero from last week:

In a crass display of moral blindness, Stephen Prothero’s blog post on Tibetan self-immolations blames the victim instead of the bully.

Tibetans are stuck in one of the world’s last remaining and most brutal colonial occupations. It is through this lens, more than anything else, that we must understand the self-immolations.

By demanding that the Dalai Lama condemn these individuals who have shown compassion beyond our imagination, Mr. Prothero has betrayed a colossal indifference to the courage and circumstances of those fighting for the same democratic freedoms and human rights that he himself enjoys.

How can the Dalai Lama condemn the self-immolators when their motivation was evidently selfless and their tactic nonviolent? Would we ask Gandhi to condemn activists in the Indian freedom struggle who were killed while lying on the road to block British police trucks? Or the hunger strikers who were starving themselves to death in order to protest the injustices of British rule in India?

By every measure, it’s the Chinese leaders and not the Dalai Lama who are responsible for the self-immolations in Tibet. They have the power to ease tensions, reverse restrictions, and stop the self-immolations overnight.

Self-immolation, which emerged as a tactic from being cornered for too long, represents the final outpost in the spectrum of nonviolent resistance. If this last remaining space for expression, no matter how drastic, is taken away, the rope might just snap. Chaos will ensue, vastly increasing the chances of a full-blown ethnic conflict that even the Dalai Lama will have exhausted his moral capital to stop.

The image of a person engulfed in flames is shocking, often disturbing, to people living in the free world. For all our obsession with violent movies, graphic video games, and live coverage of wars, it still rips our hearts to pieces when we see a human in flames.

And that is precisely what a self-immolation is meant to evoke. It is a plea for help that urges us to come to the rescue rather than bask in philosophical investigation into its morality.

I think this also works well to address people like Pam Logan from KhamAid, who seem completely hung up on Western and exiled Tibetan reactions to the self-immolations, and resolutely ignore the factors that have led to the adoption of self-immolation as a tactic in the first place.

Meanwhile, High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a post by Woeser, who seems mildly disgusted by Xinhua’s recent propaganda piece on the self-immolation crisis:

So, why did the authorities decide to, this time, only broadcast the documentary to audiences abroad and not to people within China? Is it only to prevent Han Chinese, the majority of all Chinese people, to learn any more about the current situation in Tibet and risk that they start doubting the claims by the authorities that “Today, Tibetans are experiencing development and happiness as never before in history”? This is probably one reason, but the more important reason is that they are afraid of provoking the several millions of Tibetans living in Tibet and with them also the much-feared Uyghurs and Mongolians. This documentary only talks about 13 Tibetan self-immolators, but some of the video recordings and images shown here are revealed to the public for the very first time and display the great courage of the Tibetan self-immolators; on top of that, the various kinds of explanations offered by CCTV are full of ridiculous loopholes.

According to information from Labrang, Amdo, already in early February this year, they started showing a propaganda film called “The Dalai Splittists” which portrays all Tibetan self-immolators as having personality disorders. The local authorities requested all monasteries, villages and schools to send representatives to watch this film and offer a critique; however, most people’s reactions were quite conflicting. In fact, with now 31 cases, Amdo is the place that experienced the most self-immolations. After the film had been shown, 16 people self-immolated in February, 11 in March, 2 in April and another 3 in May, including a Mother of three children. Two of the self-immolations happened in Lhasa on the 6th day of the most important Buddhist festival, “Saga Dawa”. Between the holy Jokhang Temple that is frequented by people from all over Tibet and Barkhor Police Station, a place that takes on the function of oppressing the people, two young Tibetans from Amdo who had been jobbing in Lhasa, self-immolated.

The screening of this film in Labrang, Amdo, was probably only a trial screening. And it probably served as a prototype for the CCTV propaganda film because many scenes are very similar. However, as a netizen commented: “I just finished the 40-minute-long English version of the CCTV documentary about Tibetan self-immolations, my feeling is that if one turns off the sound, it immediately comes across as an anti-government news report. What is the point of making such a double-edged propaganda film?!” Obviously, this proves the point that the explanations given are absurd and despicable.

Beijing’s inability to formulate an effective response to the self-immolations has gotten more and more absurd. Heavier policing makes people angrier, slandering the victims just raised tensions, propaganda films backfired, blaming the Dalai Lama is a tough sell for anyone outside of mainland China. Is China prepared to make fire extinguisher-toting police an essential part of every patrol in every corner of Tibet for the foreseeable future? If China remains unwilling to address Tibetan concerns, this isn’t going to stop.

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