Six More Tibetans Jailed Over Self-Immolations

Following the sentencing in Sichuan of monk Lorang Konchok and his nephew for inciting eight people to commit self-immolation, a court in Gansu handed out punishments to six others accused of involvement in one of the protests. Four received prison sentences of seven to twelve years for intentional homicide, having obstructed police efforts to take away Togye Rinchen after he set himself ablaze last October. Chinese authorities claim that this stopped him from receiving life-saving medical aid, which according to a legal opinion issued in December constitutes murder. Activist groups, on the other hand, have accused police of holding surviving self-immolators for days or weeks without treatment for their burns. The two remaining defendants received three and four year sentences for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” nearby.

At The Wall Street Journal, Josh Chin reported on the wave of protests and the two sentences handed down in Sichuan:

A total of 86 Tibetans, mostly monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in protest against Beijing’s policies since the start of 2012, according to a Jan. 25 statement issued by the Tibetan government in exile. Of the 99 self-immolations since 2009, 83 have been confirmed to be fatal, Tenzin Lekshay, a press officer for the Tibetan exile administration said last week, saying the rest were untraceable.

Mr. Sangay, who was in New Delhi to attend a four-day gathering over the Tibetan self-immolations, said Chinese authorities had failed to realize that their “repression of the aspirations of Tibetans” was what led to protests. “The solution really lies in a peaceful and transparent dialogue process,” he said.

[…] The sentences handed down Thursday are the “most severe imposed on people accused of inciting self-immolation,” said Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

[…] “This is all part of a pattern of escalation against the communities where the people who have committed self-immolations come from,” he said. “At the same time, the government hasn’t even started to address the grievances that underlie the self-immolations.”

Beside criminal prosecutions, authorities have tried threatening to cancel government benefits for self-immolators’ familiesconfiscating TVs, dismantling satellite dishes and tightening travel restrictions. These include restrictions on the issuing of passports, as Columbia University’s Robert Barnett discussed with Matt Schiavenza at The Atlantic:

Why has the Chinese government stopped issuing passports to Tibetan people? Why now?

The Chinese have given no public explanation so far, but we know from leaked internal documents that it started as a response to a relatively small event last year, one that they have treated as if they were a major threat: a few thousand Tibetans were given permission to travel legally on passports in December 2011 to Nepal, and they then went on to India to attend religious teachings by the Dalai Lama. When they returned, although they hadn’t broken any Chinese laws, they were put in detention for some two months and given political re-education and their passports were all withdrawn. Officially the authorities claimed that these passport cancellations would be done only to government employees and Chinese Communist Party members — but in fact they did it to all the Tibetans whom they suspected of having gone to these Buddhist teachings.

The current passport restriction, then, was initially designed to weed out people who might do this sort of thing again. But now they seem to have extended it to all Tibetans in Tibet, using the excuse that their passports — even if they are valid and even if they’re about to travel somewhere — have to be replaced by new-issue electronic passports. And the new rules say that any Tibetan, before getting a new passport, if indeed they ever get one, must make a written declaration not to do anything while abroad that might threaten China’s national security, and must be visited by the police and interviewed once he or she returns to see if they kept this undertaking. Though there have been many kinds of unprecedented restrictions applied in many spheres of Tibetan life since the protests of 2008, this is one of the more surprising ones.