70 People Detained for Inciting Self-Immolations

As part of an intensified crackdown on self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Beijing’s policies in Tibetan regions, the Chinese government has detained dozens of people and cast blame on U.S.-government funded broadcaster Voice of America. Reuters reports on the recent arrests:

In the past few months, the government has begun a new tactic to discourage the protests, detaining and jailing people it deems to have incited the burnings.

The latest detentions took place in the northwestern province of Qinghai, where police detained 70 “criminal suspects”, 12 of whom were formally arrested, meaning they will be charged, the official Xinhua news agency said.

“Police will exert more efforts to thoroughly investigate the cases and seriously punish those who incite innocent people to commit self-immolation,” it quoted Lu Benqian, Qinghai’s deputy police chief, as saying.

China has repeatedly denounced exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetan groups for fomenting the self-immolations.

Among those overseas groups blamed for “fomenting” self-immolations is VOA. NBC reports on a recent CCTV documentary which portrayed self-immolators who had been inspired by VOA coverage of the deaths:

The 25-minute documentary, roughly translated as, “Outside Tibetan Separatist Cliques and the Southern Gansu self-immolations,” ran on the CCTV show, “Focus Today” and showed a Tibetan man in a hospital bed who allegedly attempted to self-immolate.

Seemingly prompted to explain why he had attempted to light himself on fire, the man says, “I did it after watching VOA, I saw the photographs of self-immolators being commemorated. They were treated like heroes.”

The documentary coincides with a story printed earlier this week in the English language government newspaper, China Daily, which also suggested that the American government broadcaster was influencing Tibetans’ decision to set themselves alight.

Citing the example of one 18-year old Tibetan named Sangdegye, who attempted to self-immolate last December, the China Daily noted that he “adored the self-immolators VOA reported on,” citing them as “heroes.”

The CCTV documentary can be viewed here:

A China Daily article also pointed a finger at VOA and other foreign media, talking to family members of self-immolators:

His son, 31-year-old Tsekho, did not get along well with his wife before his death. He wanted to start a business and make money and asked his father for start-up funds. However, Chirarab refused and scolded him, as he was worried his alcoholic son would squander the money on excessive gambling and drinking.

After hearing that self-immolation could make him a “hero”, Tsekho told his friends, “I would rather burn myself than live like this”.

He set himself on fire beside a bridge in his village on Nov 29, 2012. Two of his friends fed the fire by pouring gasoline onto a woolen blanket and throwing the blanket to Tsekho. Another two villagers sent photos of his self-immolation overseas, along with his detailed personal information.

Some foreign media later branded Tsekho a “Tibetan martyr” protesting the growing influence of Han Chinese on the Tibetan plateau. They also used his story as an excuse to attract international attention to the so-called Tibet issue and the ultimate pursuit of “Tibetan independence,” a campaign spearheaded by the Tibetan government-in-exile, with the Dalai Lama as its spiritual leader.

VOA has denied the allegations:

VOA Director David Ensor called the allegations “absurd” and “totally false.” He called on the Chinese media to retract their stories.

Both VOA’s English-language and Tibetan-language programs have provided extensive coverage of the nearly 100 Tibetans who have self-immolated since 2009 to protest alleged Chinese repression in their region.

Ensor called the self-immolation stories “tragic” and a sign of distress in Tibet.

“We report about them, but do not encourage them, absolutely not.”

Almost 100 Tibetans have self-immolated over the past three years, and many of them have died. In response, government authorities have cracked down on families of the immolators as well as the villages where they lived by denying development assistance. Writer Wang Lixiong conducted an analysis of the last words of self-immolators in an attempt to understand their motives.