Category Archives: Tibet

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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“On The Train to Lhasa”

RFA is stealing High Peak’s thunder today by translating another good Woeser post:

A train attendant from Hubei asks me anxiously: “What is the security situation like in Lhasa?” “Very safe for you [Han Chinese],” I say, pointedly emphasizing the “you.” Some young people sitting nearby with real Beijing accents overhear this, and ask me about it. “There are army, police and plainclothes officers lining the streets,” I tell them.

The train attendant is pretty bright, and asks: “Do Tibetans feel very constricted?” Another young person chips in: “Does this have anything to do with those Tibetans who have self-immolated?”

I am very conscious of the language barrier, even though we are all speaking Chinese. I reflect that self-immolation is hardly a rare tragedy these days, but that while another culture might understand why a person would self-immolate on their own behalf, they can’t see why someone would do that on behalf of a whole ethnic group. But I’d like to say a bit more about that, and tell them about the last words uttered by some of the Tibetans who have self-immolated.

When our train, packed full of so many living things, arrives at Lhasa station, the majority of non-Tibetan passengers breeze easily through, so very excited to be heading off to various parts of Lhasa, and looking quite perky; even those who are immediately hit by altitude sickness.

The dozen or so Tibetan passengers, on the other hand, are stopped by armed police and their identity cards checked with a device similar to those used to swipe credit cards. When I hand my card over, I am stopped with the words, “Woeser, stay behind!”

Two young Tibetans from the southern part of Qinghai province are to be sent back home the next day, because they didn’t have a “permit to enter Tibet.” The police dealing with Tibetans pay scant heed to their pleas, repeatedly telling them that a “permit to enter Tibet” must be issued by county level police departments or above. The really funny thing is, one of the young women, who did look a bit Chinese, tells the police that she is actually a fake Tibetan, which surprises them, and they ask her why. She says she changed her nationality from Han to Tibetan in order to take advantage of positive discrimination offered to ethnic minorities in the university admissions process. “This is now a huge pain for me,” she says, admitting that she deeply regrets it.

Those Tibetans who do hold a “permit to enter Tibet” have their ID cards photocopied, and are asked to fill out the address where they will be staying in Lhasa, the reason for their trip, and their identity, as well as signing their names and adding their fingerprints in blood-red ink.

When I and the two young people from [Qinghai] are finally allowed to leave the police station and enter Lhasa, they say to each other, amid sobs: “Who’d have thought it would be so hard for Tibetans to get into Lhasa?”

I might be a reactionary imperialist running dog, but this looks a lot like apartheid to me.

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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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“Updates on Labrang Jigme”

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated an oral account given by Labrang Jigme’s brother, Sonam Tsering, after briefly seeing him:

Three police officers took me to a hotel to meet Lama Jigme. After entering the room I asked my brother about his health, he said that he was not in a good state. Subsequently, Lama Jigme asked the police officers a few questions: Why did you bring me here? Isn’t it just to get some food? What are you (pointing at the policemen) planning to do? And so on.

One police officer replied that the reason why they had brought him here “was just to receive food”.

Lama Jigme said: “Well, leave the food here and take my brother back.”

The police officer replied: “You should talk to your brother.”

Lama Jigme said: “I have nothing to say. If this is really just to bring me some food, then just put the food down and take him back. But if he came to visit me, why do you need to film and take photos of a private meeting? Yesterday, I said that I was not feeling well, so you invited a doctor to see me. You videotaped and photographed the whole examination process. But in the end, I did not even receive a single drop of medicine at all.”

Lama Jigme continued: “Today, my older brother is coming to see me and you are playing an old trick. You want to publicise this visual material and then claim that Jigme is in a good state, that he is well taken care of and even allowed to meet his relatives, don’t you? I am telling you, I don’t need anyone bringing me food, I don’t need my brother to visit me, I also don’t want to live in a hotel. If you think that I am a criminal, send me to court for a trial. If I really committed a crime, well then I will gladly accept my sentence, even if it is the death sentence.”

“If you still want me to talk to my brother, well then I want to tell my brother to help me to appeal”. Lama Jigme turned his head towards me and said, “Go lodge an appeal for me… Find me a good lawyer and sue these policemen! When the police from Gansu Province came here, I already very clearly raised the same points. I am a victim. But you don’t need to suffer from the same persecution (as I have).”

“The police told me that I was not allowed to meet foreigners, so I never met any. The police told me that I was not allowed to meet with the well-known writers Woeser and Wang Lixiong who live in Beijing, so I never met them. I followed the orders that the police had given me, I never went to any place that was on your list of places that I should not go to, I never met anyone who you did not want me to meet. Why are you spending so much money on me? Why do you spend so much money to let me live in a hotel and have 4 to 5 people watching me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Why are you wasting this money on me?”

As I stood next to and heard my younger brother saying these things, I felt like crying but had no tears. Every single time that I had gone to the Security Bureau I had told the police my opinion and asked them to tell me what crimes my brother had committed. They never gave a me an explicit response. My brother is innocent, I told the police to let him go immediately. I said that I would bring this case to the county level, prefectural level, provincial level, yes even to the attention of the central government. You can’t just imprison a person for no reason for over 70 days. My brother has already been arrested 4 times. Every time, he would disappear without a word or trace and then after a while he would be let go without any charges.

Hopefully some day Labrang Jigme, Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo, and Dhondup Wangchen will all be able to kick back together and reminisce about the fall of the single-party state in China over a good cup of chang. Until then, keeping these prisoners of conscience in the spotlight and publicizing their cases seems to be the only thing we can, while foreign governments remain relatively uninvolved.

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“Tibetan Performer Detained”

The deja-vu headline strikes again, as RFA reports yet another Tibetan being detained:

Sogtruk Sherab was taken into custody early Thursday by police in Yulgan (in Chinese, Henan) county in the province’s Tibetan-populated Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) prefecture, a local resident said, speaking to RFA’s Tibetan service on condition of anonymity.

“He had sung several songs and staged many short satire skits on themes reflecting the Tibetan situation,” the source said.

“There is no information about his current place of detention or the condition of his health,” he added.

Among his other performances, Sherab had produced a skit celebrating the election of Harvard-educated Lobsang Sangay as Tibet’s India-based exile political leader, likely angering Chinese authorities.

“People suspect that he was detained because of his daring expressions of Tibet’s current situation through his songs and shows,” the source said.

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“The Body Count”

Elliot Sperling has a pretty chilling post about the mass killings that took place in Tibet during the two decades immediately following the Chinese invasion. The recent discovery of mass graves has brought this topic back into the light, although it’s still completely denied by the Chinese government:

In May, just a few months ago, preparations were made for the start of a building project in Nang-chen county in the modern Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, part of what was once the old kingdom of Nang-chen in Upper Kham. This is also the site of some of the instances of self-immolation, the act of protest that has been repeated again and again across Tibet and in exile over the last several years. As the ground was turned to start the construction of a house, something horrid—unexpected and uninvited—suddenly materialized. Human bones began emerging from below the soil. Lots of them, it was said.

The images are clear, the local explanations were whispered: it was where monks and laypeople had been massacred in 1958, a bloody, terrible year in Eastern Tibet.

Elsewhere in Yushu, in the grasslands near Dpal-thang, the commencement of another construction project for houses brought more of the same: three mass burial pits filled with human remains. But not everything had decomposed, it was said. There were remnants of the clothes that the victims were wearing when they were thrown in: both lay clothing and monastic robes. The long hair of some of the dead was also still there. According to elders these pits were from 1958 too, with bodies added as a result of later famine deaths around 1960. Several trucks were needed to take the remains away.

In place of intense criticism or condemnation of the Chinese authorities, who have for decades refused to open up records relating to what took place in Tibet (let alone of those whom the records would likely implicate in the savagery), there is a sort of indulgence that one might call the Chinese dispensation: the actions of China are to be seen as something akin to natural phenomena for which little or no moral judgment or critique is imaginable. It is the other actors who should be judged. This can involve the selective use of available (and problematic) Chinese statistics as well as the ascription of much, if not most, of the population loss in Tibet to migration and exile. And there is also the common, droning refrain that accounts from Tibetan exiles are exaggerated and can’t be trusted. Instead of seeking to work through exaggerations to find underlying truths, this rhetorical device is deployed to dismiss, tout court, testimony from those who have fled Tibet. Hence this sentence (from the pen of Barry Sautman): “The [1.2 million] figure is not based on eyewitness accounts or access to state statistics, and refugee reports have often been skewed to please exile authorities.” Well, at least it implies the existence of Chinese records on the subject. Still, if passed over too quickly a reader might not fully take in that the criticism contained in it is directed not at China for preventing access to those records but at Tibetans for not using them: records to which neither they nor any serious researchers are allowed access! And then there’s the schizophrenia of: a) removing from consideration any accounts (including those by eyewitnesses) reported in exile because they are ‘skewed’ and then, having done so; b) saying Tibetans don’t have “eyewitness” accounts… Of course, the utter unreliability of the 1.2 million figure is not an issue of real contention among serious observers: Human Rights Watch already in 1988 termed it unverifiable. But this is not the same as dismissing (as Sautman does) the fact of mass killings in Tibet in the first decades of rule by the PRC.

Do read the rest, although be warned: the topic itself is grim enough, and there are pictures from one of the mass graves found recently.

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“Lhasa: A New Area of Racial Segregation”

If you’ve read this blog more than once or twice you’ve probably noticed that I post things from Woeser, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth, pretty much constantly. She occupies a unique space in China, and her blog Invisible Tibet is a clearinghouse of information about what’s happening in Tibet, coming more or less straight from Tibetans themselves. Recently she’s been writing about Lhasa and the way restrictions there are coming to constitute apartheid. These are really serious claims she’s making, but it should be obvious that they aren’t being made lightly. If Tibet isn’t quite the same as South Africa or, as she says in this article, Jews under the Third Reich, it’s certainly gotten far too close for comfort.

As she says:

Apart from setting up security checkpoints around Potala Palace, in the old town of Lhasa and in monasteries, defences have been established on various levels including at airports, train stations and motorways; non-Lhasa residents who do not have all kinds of paperwork and certificates, “cannot enter Lhasa, unless they have wings”, as expressed by a Han Chinese tourist.

However, if one is not Tibetan, one can come by plane, by train, by car, by bike or one can even walk into Lhasa without problems. Of course, any people from countries other than China have already been indirectly refused entry into Tibet. If one searches for “Lhasa” on Weibo, one’s senses are assaulted with Chinese people from various places happily going to Lhasa to enjoy themselves. A little dog who has been referred to as “Xiao Sa” is most popular because it joined some Chinese cyclist halfway to Lhasa and followed them all the way into the city. This is why some Tibetans pungently wrote on Weibo : “Lhasa welcomes you, but it does not welcome Tibetans.”

Some Tibetans have described the bitter experiences of their families on Weibo: “My 19-year-old Tibetan nephew arranged to cycle along the Qinghai-Tibet route with three of his Chinese classmates but when they reached Lhasa’s Umatang Township in Damzhung County, his classmates could pass whereas he was stopped because he was Tibetan. Only with a certificate from a county-level or above unit would he be allowed to enter Lhasa. I made some phone calls to inquire and found out that as a non-Lhasa Tibetan if one wants to job, do business or visit relatives in Lhasa one needs all kinds of certificates and guarantees. Otherwise after passing a certain deadline, one is directly sent back to one’s native place. Anti-terrorism measures that divide ethnicities are easily implemented when there are only a few people, but what if there are many?”

This reminds people of the Second World War when the Nazis implemented policies of “anti-semitism” against Jews. In fact, Tibetans have already started sarcastically calling Lhasa a “Jewish district under Nazi rule”. The “elimination of Jews” back then and the “elimination of Tibetans” today has led many young Tibetans to spread the following sentence on Weibo about history repeating itself: “just like the Jews said who had to wear the Yellow Badge on their chests: we are unarmed and defenseless, but in the big world out there, no one is brave enough to step forward to help us.”

For the past many years, non-Lhasa residence, regardless of their cultural, economic or religious backgrounds, have always been relatively important parts of Lhasa’s societal structure. Business people from Amdo, Kham, Changthang, from different areas across the the whole of Tibet have operated businesses in Lhasa, monks have made pilgrimages to Lhasa and according to traditional customs, stayed in one of Lhasa’s three main monasteries to study. Traditionally, Lhasa has always been considered the centre, it has always been the holy land that all Tibetans yearn for; but today, it has turned into a place that “eliminates Tibetans”.

Referring to nomad resettlement camps as ghettos has become pretty uncontroversial as the scope of government resettlement projects and the grimness of the camps has become more apparent, but Lhasa itself as a ghetto… The way the Tibet issue has been evolving since 2008 has gotten more and more disturbing, and it’s hard to see what could break this impasse. If massive demonstrations in 2008 and now more than 50 self-immolations over two years have failed to spur some kind of positive change, what can?

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“Chinese Flag Removed Again”

China just can’t keep its flag up in Tibet, where RFA reports it was pulled down again in Kardze a few days ago:

On Friday, the Chinese flag was removed and the Tibetan flag hoisted around midnight at an elementary school in the Tibetan-populated Sershul (Shiqu in Chinese) county, according to Jampa Yonten, a Tibetan exile monk based in southern India, citing sources in the region.

“At midnight on Friday, the Chinese national flag on a pole in the Wenbo township elementary school was taken down, and a Tibetan flag was raised instead,” Jampa Yonten told RFA’s Mandarin service on Sunday.

“At that time, there were also a lot of leaflets scattered on the ground in the school. On those leaflets, the words ‘Freedom for Tibet’ were written in red letters.”

The exiled monk said the previous Chinese flag-removal incident at the school occurred on February 4 amid a spate of deadly protests against Chinese rule in Sichuan province and that Chinese authorities had then sent hundreds of police personnel to the area in a bid to tighten security.

It’s worth keeping in mind once again that Kardze was outside of the area controlled by the Lhasa government at the time of the Chinese invasion, and as far as I know the Tibetan flag used by Lhasa at the time never flew there. Beijing loves to remind us that these areas haven’t been directly ruled by the Lhasa government in some time, but this is illustrative of how Tibetan national sentiment is a major force across all of Tibet, not just the province labeled as such by Beijing.

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