87th Self-Immolation, Death of Earlier Protester Reported

Dharamsala-based Phayul.com reports the 25th self-immolation case this month and news of one of the five Tibetans who set fire to themselves on November 7th, on the eve of China’s 18th Party Congress. The man is said to have died in police custody on November 18th after allegedly being refused treatment for his burns. The total now stands at 87 cases since 2009, excluding four cases in India, one in Nepal, and two unconfirmed cases in Sichuan.

“Sangay Tashi, 18, set himself on fire at around 12 midnight Tuesday, November 27 in Sangkhog town,” an exiled Tibetan monk Sonam told Phayul citing contacts in the region. “He passed away at the site of his protest.”

[…] Sangay Tashi arrived in Sangkhog town earlier that day with his friends. Before setting himself on fire, he reportedly called one of his relatives and told him that he had decided to set himself on fire for the cause of Tibet. Before his relative could carry on the conversation, Sangay Tashi hung up the phone and switched it off.

By the time Sangay Tashi’s family members arrived in Sangkhog, he had already carried out his self-immolation protest.

Sonam, an exile Tibetan living in Switzerland, told Phayul that Tsegyu set himself ablaze at around 7pm (local time) on November 7, in Tingser village of Bekar town in Driru (Ch: Biru) region of Nagchu, in an apparent protest against China’s continued occupation of Tibet.

[…] Confirming the reports, Dharamshala based rights group Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in a release today said Tsegyu received no medical treatment while in detention at a local police station in Nagchu.

“For less than two weeks, from November 7 to 18, Tsegyal received no treatment for his burns while being held at the local police station in Nagchu town,” TCHRD said citing sources. “Tsegyal died in the evening of November 18 in police custody.”

Heavy restrictions on journalists in Tibetan areas make independent verification of these reports difficult or impossible. As Kristin Jones wrote at the Committee to Protect Journalists in February, “by preventing reporters from doing their jobs, Chinese officials all but guarantee that activists are the ones reporting the news.”

The Associated Press’ Christopher Bodeen examined the protests’ tactics and escalation, and Beijing’s uncertain response.

“I think the problem will just escalate over time. The government shows no inclination to respond positively to recommendations for reform from the outside or Tibetans,” said Michael Davis, a law professor and expert on Tibet at the University of Hong Kong.

[…] The surge in self-immolations represents an awareness of the impact they are having among the Tibetan community and internationally, said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at New York’s Columbia University. That would likely inspire further protests, increasing the numbers of Tibetans willing to take their lives for the sake of their community, he said.

[…] While local authorities have cracked down hard following the self-immolations and other protests, authorities in Beijing have said relatively little other than to issue routine denunciations of the Dalai Lama and his followers. That indicates they are uncertain how to respond in a way that would bolster their authority and prevent the acts of defiance snow-balling into a full-blown protest movement, Barnett said.

U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke discussed the self-immolations with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday:

Christiane Amanpour: We want to know from your perspective whether the new leader Xi Jinping will be any different on Tibet, for instance, because there have been many burnings by ethnic Tibetans, another four reported just today in China; I know you’ve met with some ethnic Tibetans. What do you think is the prospect for any different kind of relationship, Ambassador?

Gary Locke: Well, we’re just going to have to wait and see, but obviously the United States is very concerned about the situation, the heightened tensions in the Tibetan areas, the deplorable self-immolations and of course just the policies of the Chinese government at all levels. And we’re publicly and privately constantly urging the Chinese to re-examine some of their policies that threaten the linguistic identity, cultural identity, and religious identity of the Tibetan people.

See also ‘Tibet Self-Immolations Moving to “New Phase”; 86th Reported‘ and previous posts on the protests at CDT.