Tibetans Protest After Self-Immolations (Updated)

On Wednesday, five Tibetans self-immolated in protest against Chinese policies in Tibet. The next day, a former monk set himself alight in Tongren, Qinghai. Following this incident, thousands of people gathered in protest in Tongren (Rebkong), which was also the scene of Wednesday’s self-immolation by a 23-year-old mother. According to media reports, a broad range of people protested including high school students and nomads from neighboring areas. The Los Angeles Times reports:

As many as 6,000 people demonstrated against the government Thursday afternoon in Tongren, a monastery town in Qinghai province, after two self-immolations — a 23-year-old woman on Wednesday and a young former monk on Thursday, exile groups reported.

“The situation there is very tense as Chinese armed forces have placed severe restrictions on movement in the town and are now closing in on the protesters,” a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile told the Tibetan news service Phayul.

“We have heard that 2,000 to 6,000 people demonstrated, which are plausible numbers given that there have been protests of that size before,” said Harriet Beaumont, a spokeswoman for the London-based group Free Tibet.

She said the protests were carried out in response to the heavy troop presence and other stifling security measures, intimidating footage on television and harsh sentences for involvement in a protest or disclosure about demonstrations to outsiders.

The International Campaign for Tibet has more details:

As Jinpa Gyatso set himself ablaze, he could be heard shouting for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, according to a Tibetan source in exile. His body was taken by local Tibetans to an area where high lamas are cremated. According to other exile sources, following the cremation, Tibetans began to gather at the square where Jinpa had died, and some shouted slogans calling for the Dalai Lama’s long life and his return to Tibet. The situation remains tense.

Tibetans responded with similarly strong emotion to the self-immolation yesterday (November 7) of Tamdrin Tso, a 23-year old mother of a six-year old boy. Tamdrin Tso set herself on fire and died in the center of the Drorong Po village in Dowa township in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren). According to Tibetans sources in exile, local Tibetans had noticed Tamdrin Tso praying for Tibetans who had self-immolated: “She said Mani mantra [mantras associated with the Dalai Lama] and took vows about fasting and not drinking. Also she prayed and offered butter lamps in the monastery. Local people said that even though Tamdrin Tso did all of these things, in the end she could not bear it. And she set fire to herself.”

Following the protests, armed police were sent in to patrol the streets. AFP reports:

Armed police in paramilitary vehicles stepped up patrols in Tongren, in the northwestern province of Qinghai, after “thousands of protesters” gathered on the streets on Thursday, London-based Free Tibet said in a statement.

The protests came after six Tibetans set themselves on fire on Wednesday and Thursday, the rights group said.
Local residents in Tongren who were contacted by AFP said they witnessed no demonstrations but reported a stepped-up security presence.

“There are lots of police on the streets. They have increased their patrols and they stay out for 24 hours a day,” a shopowner in the town centre who refused to give her name told AFP by phone.

Tongren has seen other recent protests, including this past March following another self-immolation there. More than 60 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest since 2009. In 2010, Tongren students marched to protest government plans to supplant Tibetan language with Mandarin in schools. Because of a tight security presence in many Tibetan areas, it is difficult for journalists and others to gather firsthand information from the scene of these self-immolations and protests.

Photos allegedly of the Tongren protests are being widely distributed online:

(photo from: Right Now I/O)


[Banner says: Tongren police beat the common people.]

Meanwhile, in Beijing, where the country’s highest leaders are gathering for the 18th Party Congress, Tiananmen Square is under tight security and dotted with teams of firemen stationed to prevent any protesters from self-immolating.

Photo by Tom Lasseter/McClatchy, used with permission.

Update: Footage of the protests has been posted online:

And from Voice of America’s Tibetan service:

Radio Free Asia has posted additional footage here.

November 8, 2012 10:38 PM
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