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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