“New Phase” in Tibet Self-Immolations; 86th Reported

Dharamshala-based Phayul.com reports than an 86th Tibetan self-immolation took place on Tuesday evening, marking the 24th this month.

Kalsang Kyab, 24, set himself ablaze in front of a Chinese government office in Kangtsa town, raising slogans for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Kyabje Kirti Rinpoche, the exiled head of Kirti Monastery. He passed away at the site of his protest.

The Dharamshala based Kirit Monastery in a late night release said Kalsang Kyab carried out his protest at around 6:30 pm (local time).

“Kalsang Kyab doused his body with kerosene as he walked towards the local government office building, raising slogans,” Kirit Monastery said citing sources in the region. “Upon reaching the office building, he then set himself ablaze and continued to raise slogans.”

The Chinese government’s blackout of independent media in Tibetan areas makes independent verification of reports from the region difficult or impossible. Even the number of self-immolations is uncertain: according to activist group Rangzen Alliance and writer Woeser [zh], the current total is 92. (Woeser’s tweet states 91, but predates news of the latest incident.) A post by Woeser written on August 1st and translated at High Peaks Pure Earth explains part of the discrepancy.

U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported four arrests following student protests on Monday. Independent experts quoted by the similarly funded Voice of America suggested that the self-immolations have moved into a new phase in recent weeks, with activists describing this as an attempt to sway the recently installed Party leadership in Beijing.

[Columbia University’s Robert] Barnett says the first phase of self-immolations began last year with monks and nuns trying to protect their monasteries from security crackdowns.

The second wave, which he says occurred for most of the past year, involved individuals in small towns sharing sympathy with those monks and nuns.

“But now in this phase we have laypeople staging these immolations in ways that are much more determined in an attempt to get a response from Chinese authorities, by having immolations in clusters, very close together, many on the same day or within a few days and many in the same place,” said Barnett.

James Leibold, a Tibet analyst for Australia’s Latrobe University in Beijing says that a broader segment of the Tibetan community is also involved in the latest protests.

[…] But Leibold says so far there is no indication that the government has changed its position on Tibet.

“Sadly, we hear the same rhetoric coming out of Beijing, and Chinese officials continually blaming a few black hands for collaborating with the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan community to stir up trouble and to damage China’s ethnic unity and harmony. There’s just absolutely no will, it seems, to admit a failure of policy,” he said.

In a further broadening of the protest movement, Phayul reports that coordinated hunger strikes have broken out across Tibetan areas:

More than 60 Tibetans from different walks of life began their solidarity hunger strike in their evening of November 26 in their respective places. According to Kanyag Tsering, an exiled monk who has been closely monitoring the situation inside Tibet, the Tibetans will end their hunger strike in the morning of November 28.

The campaign is being observed in various cities across the tradition boundaries of Tibet.

“The simultaneous hunger strike is being carried out in Tibet’s capital Lhasa, Drango, Jomda, Zachukha, Tridu, Sertha, Siling, Rebkong, Kardze and Trindu in China,” Tsering told Phayul. “They have also been offering prayers for the self-immolators.”

According to the same source, the Tibetans taking part in this campaign come from different walks of like and are “highly educated.”

“The participants in the solidarity campaign include government officials, writers, monks, and businessmen.”