VOA on Tibet: ‘Fire in the Land of Snow’

The U.S. government’s official external broadcaster Voice of America has been closely following the ongoing wave of protest by self-immolation against Beijing’s policies in Tibetan regions of China. During an intensification of the Chinese government’s crackdown in Tibet early this year, China’s state media fingered Voice of America (as well as other “outside Tibetan separatist cliques“[zh]) for stoking the flames of protest with their broadcasts. Today, Voice of America released Fire in the Land of Snow, an “hour long documentary explor[ing] the causes behind the 118 self-immolations known to have taken place in Tibet since 2009″:

Voice of America’s piece follows the recent release of CCTV’s own documentary, which bluntly blamed the “Dalai clique” and other influences outside of China for manipulating Tibetans into self-immolation. CCTV English has an archived collection of documentary reports on Tibetan history, and the state broadcaster’s English-language political talkshow “Dialogue” has run Tibet-focused episodes since the 2008 Tibet protests.

Beijing’s ongoing crackdown has, for the most part, kept Tibetan regions far out of reach for foreign journalists since 2008. In an interview with Voice of America’s director of Tibetan service and producer of Fire in the Land of Snow, the LA Times asked where the powerful footage that makes the film came from:

Q: With journalists largely prevented from visiting Tibet, how do you go about getting visual images from the region?

Gyatso: With great difficulty. What photos and pictures and video that exist today of self-immolation or the security buildups in Tibet, the images used in the film, came from individuals who took great risks to get them. They are from cellphones, primarily. Some of the footage in the film, of the security in a village outside Lhasa showing people being beaten, that actually came from Chinese security footage that leaked out. [Source]

From elsewhere in the English-language media, Radio Free Asia reports on the court-ruled jailing of two Tibetan monks who organized prayer services for a deceased protester:

Tsondru, 27, and Gendun Tsultrim, 30, were sentenced on April 18 to three years each for their role in leading funeral services for Wangchen Norbu, who burned himself to death on Nov. 19 in Yadzi (in Chinese, Xunhua) county, a monk living in South India told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Tuesday.

“They had no legal representation, and their family members and other relatives were not present,” Yarphel said, citing sources in the region.

News of their jailing was delayed apparently due to a clampdown on information on self-immolations. [Source]

In a special report, Reuters follows up on Kalkyi, the now-deceased mother of four who became the 111th Tibetan self-immolator in March:

On the chilly afternoon of March 24, Kalkyi – who like some Tibetans went by just one name – stood outside the monastery gates with about 200 to 300 other worshippers. She doused herself with gasoline and lit a match. Flames instantly engulfed her, and as they did, she shouted words that no one could make out.

Witnesses say it took less than 15 minutes for the blaze to kill Kalkyi. She was 30 years old.

It was the ninth time in just over a year that a Tibetan mother had set herself on fire, an especially startling statistic to emerge from a grisly campaign of suicidal political defiance that shows no sign of ending. [Source]