92nd Tibetan Self-Immolation Reported

Dharamsala-based Phayul.com reports that a 92nd self-immolation protest took place on Monday evening.

Lobsang Gendun, a 29-year-old Tibetan monk self-immolated in Golog Pema Dzong at around 7:45 pm (local time). He succumbed to his injuries at the site of his protest.

[…] “According to eyewitnesses, Lobsang Gendun had his hands clasped in prayers as he raised slogans while engulfed in flames,” Tsangyang said. “He walked a few steps towards a busy road intersection and then fell to the ground.”

Following the self-immolation protest, a minor scuffle broke out between local Tibetans and Chinese security personnel, who tried to confiscate Lobsang Gendun’s body.

[…] Security has been heightened in the region following today’s fiery protest.

The total of 92 excludes five self-immolations carried out in India and Nepal and two disputed cases in Sichuan.

At LinkAsia, Yul Kwon discussed the situation with historian Tsering Shakya. The crackdown on has only spurred further protests, he explained, adding to a list of grievances including the relegation of to secondary status in schools.

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At Foreign Policy, Oxford sociologist Michael Biggs examined the history and logic of suicide protests, in contrast with suicide attacks. He concludes:

So far, the recent wave of Tibetan immolations has not yielded any tangible political success. Repression has only increased in the Tibetan areas of China, and expressions of sympathy from the majority Han population within China are rare. Western public opinion, which already favored the Tibetan cause, has no means of exercising leverage over China. But it is too soon to assess the consequences of these immolations. Gauging their effect on Tibetans within China is effectively impossible given the degree of repression.

What we can predict is that suicide protest will continue. Its communicative logic is no less potent than the suicide attack’s sanguinary logic — and it is more readily carried out. A requires organization, coordination, and technical skills to prepare explosives. In conflict zones like Afghanistan, the attacker also needs assistance to reach what are often fortified targets. Suicide protest does not require organization. There is no defense against the practice, short of the total suppression of information. Where information about suicide protest can be suppressed completely, there is hardly any reason to perform it. In today’s world, the totalitarian control formerly exercised by the Soviet Union or Maoist China is no longer feasible, at least for a country participating in the global economy. For evidence, look no further than China’s inability to prevent us from reading about — and in some cases even watching — the immolations in .

This may risk underestimating the effectiveness of China’s suppression of information, however. While news of over 90 cases has escaped Tibet to date, its impact appears to have been substantially dampened by the difficulty of independent verification. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts and McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter were able to reach Aba in February, but restrictions on foreign reporters have generally held firm, with coverage of the protests often muted as a result. Madeline Earp of the viewed this near-blackout through the lens of Jigme Gyatso’s unknown whereabouts. The monk and filmmaker’s assistant has been missing since mid-September, and was presumed detained until local authorities publicised an award for his capture, accusing him of manslaughter.

Let’s concentrate […] on what we do know about Jigme Gyatso. After his initial arrest for making the film, he reported being tortured in Chinese prison. Radio Free Asia has reported he lost consciousness due to beatings, and was prodded in the face with electric batons. Publicizing that led to his re-arrest, according to CPJ research. Twice, authorities have moved him from a monastery where he lived, once in 2009, and again in 2012, when they razed his home, Radio Free Asia reported. This man has undergone unrelenting harassment since he collaborated with Dhondup Wangchen. An arrest order issued against him is a deeply troubling sign. Either he is already in secret , and this order is meant as a belated justification. Or, he is really missing–and there is nothing good waiting for him once he is found.

As long as foreign journalists are prevented from independent travel to Tibet, and reporting by Tibetans themselves remains criminalized, there is simply no way to get to the bottom of mysteries like these. And that is untenable. Twenty-seven Tibetans said so this month in the only way they believe they have left: They set themselves on fire, leaving messages calling for the return of the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet, the . Self-immolation, too, is now a criminal offense, as is documenting or caring for the body of anyone who does, Human Rights Watch reports. The urgent need to find out what has happened to Jigme Gyatso reflects a broader need to restore freedom of information to Tibetans in order to stop this awful tide of protest by those who contest Chinese rule. This is a story that cannot be suppressed any longer.

Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, discussed the prospects for change with The Globe and Mail’s Stephanie Nolen. He explained his views on the legitimacy of the protests and the Dalai Lama’s , and expressed his hope that Tibetans could reach an “equilibrium” of contented autonomy within China, analogous to Quebec’s status within Canada. This Middle Way of eschewing demands for independence has come under increased fire as the self-immolations have surged.

Q. How are you feeling about the new leadership in Beijing, installed at the 18th Congress of the Communist Part a few weeks ago, and what do you think it may mean for Tibet?

A. I think it’s too early to say. Of the seven leaders, most of them are in their mid-60s. … So in the 19th Congress there will be more wholesale changes – the 18th Congress is a continuation of the same people from the 16th and 17th. So if you are really looking for real changes you have to wait for the 19th. The likelihood of continuing the same policy is high. Particularly the fact that some of the more “liberal” people, who are of younger age and more open-minded, were not included … We might get some hint when Xi Jinping takes over the presidency in March of next year … He will give a speech and that’s where he will indicate his line of thinking. Otherwise it’s so opaque.

Q. The Dalai Lama has suggested he is optimistic about Mr. Xi Jinping, perhaps because he had a warm relationship with Mr. Xi’s father.

A. Optimism is too strong. As a human being you should always remain hopeful. Optimism you have some basis for. Xi Jinping is the son of [former Chinese deputy premier] Xi Zhongxun, who received His Holiness in Beijing in 1954 and was with His Holiness many times, and His Holiness gave him a watch that he kept even during the Cultural Revolution and after. They took a picture and Xi Zhongxun saved it … so it seems the [warm feeling towards the Dalai Lama] was genuine … Xi Zhongxun also had a close relationship with the late Panchen Lama … and he would tell him, ‘Have patience, don’t get angry, things will take time to change.’

See more on the self-immolations via CDT.