88th, 89th Self-Immolations Reported, as Protests Strain Middle Way

Dharamsala-based Phayul.com reports that the 88th and 89th Tibetan self-immolations since 2009 took place on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, bringing the total for November to 27.

Sources have identified the Tibetan man as Wangdhen Khar, 21 years of age.

“Martyr Wande Khar set himself on fire on Wednesday, November 28 at around 7 pm (local time) in Tsoe region of Kanlho, eastern Tibet,” Zoegey Kangtsa Jampa, an exiled Tibetan told Phayul citing sources in the region. “He later succumbed to his injuries,”

[…] Also yesterday, around 500 Tibetans in Tsolho, eastern Tibet, publicly displayed a photograph of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and carried out a mass prayer service for the Tibetan spiritual leader’s long life and for all the Tibetans who have self-immolated.

Sources have identified the Tibetan as Tsering Namgyal, 31, a father of two, from Zamtsa Lotso Dewa region of Luchu.

“Tsering Namgyal set himself on fire near the local Chinese government office in Luchu earlier today for the cause of Tibet,” Sonam, a Tibetan monk living in south India told Phayul, citing sources in the region. “Tsering Namgyal passed in his fiery protest.”

[…] Tsering Namgyal is survived by his wife Choekyong Tso, their two children, Dorjee Kyi, 7, and Kalsang Dolma, 3, and his parents.

As in previous cases, sparse coverage by state media and government restrictions on foreign reporters stand in the way of independent verification. The total of 89 excludes five self-immolations carried out in India and Nepal and two disputed cases in Sichuan.

The protests have placed a growing strain on the Central Tibetan Administration’s (or government in exile’s) ‘Middle Way’ approach of seeking genuine autonomy rather than full independence. U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher wrote in a letter to prime minister Lobsang Sangay last week that “the 75 Tibetans who have self-immolated did not do so for the right to become a minority group within Communist China; the policy you are advocating. They are killing themselves for their right to freedom and self-determination and the end of the illegal Chinese occupation.” The congressman is otherwise known for his advocacy of measures to limit the number of U.S. visas granted to journalists for Chinese state media.

The controversy has been further stirred up by the removal of Ngapo Jigme as head of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service on November 1st. Critics, including Rohrabacher, say that this was engineered by the CTA in order to stifle dissent, charges the Tibetan Parliament has described as “baseless”. Influential Tibetan writer Woeser also responded that she was “shocked” by Rohrabacher’s criticisms, and hoped that he would redirect them. From Chander Suta Dogra at The Hindu:

The crux of the dispute lies in the increasing discomfort within the government-in-exile over the self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet (almost 80 till the beginning of this week) that has triggered a debate in the exile community about the usefulness of continuing with the Dalai Lama’s middle way approach. Most of those who immolated themselves had been demanding complete independence and the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. Those opposed to the Dalai Lama’s policy said Mr. Ngabo irked the government-in-exile by encouraging open discussions on various options for Tibet’s future, including outright independence.

His removal was preceded by several interactions between government-in-exile officials and RFA head Libby Liu.

Jamyang Norbu, a prominent Tibetan intellectual whose contract with the RFA was also cancelled, wrote in his blog this week: “It is an article of faith in the Central Tibetan Administration that if somehow all independence activism and discussion were halted or contained, then Beijing would agree to the “genuine autonomy” solution proposed in the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way policy; or would, at least, resume the negotiations it terminated two year ago.” He went on to say that given the extremely sensitive situation prevailing in Tibet as a result of the immolations “it would not be unreasonable to assume that Beijing wants Dharamsala to stop the “splittist” messaging from exile, particularly from RFA broadcasts, which it firmly believes is fuelling the immolations and protests within Tibet. Dharamsala in turn probably shares Beijing’s concerns as the self-immolation crisis in Tibet and the resignations of the Tibetan envoys have placed extreme pressure on the TGIE leadership’s signature Middle Way policy.”