Radio Free Asia is reporting witness accounts of a Tibetan monk in rural Sichuan province setting himself on fire before a large crowd today, a demonstration which marks the 10th self-immolation in protest of Chinese rule this year:
Dawa Tsering, 31, set himself alight during an annual ritual gathering at a monastery in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after calling on Tibetans to unite against Beijing’s rule in Tibetan-majority areas, witnesses said.
“The monk self-immolated in the vicinity of the [Kardze] Monastery, at the monks’ usual annual gathering, as the ritual dance was going on,” a monk from Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Monastery in southwestern China told RFA.
“Most of the witnesses were monks, and there weren’t many laypeople there at the time,” the monk said.
“He was shouting long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” referring to Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who is living in exile in India.
Today’s incident comes less than two weeks after a monk set himself ablaze and just a week after a nun died of self-immolation in Sichuan. The episodes represent an unprecedented shift for the Tibet protest community, according to Columbia University’s Robert Barnett. From Voice of America:
“We have to be clear. This form of protest by burning oneself to death or setting oneself on fire is really completely new in modern Tibet,” said Barnett. “We do not really have any precedent for this… As a political practice this is completely new.”
Barnett says the protesters actions reinforce an image of oppression from Chinese authorities.
“It is very important because it indicates to all Tibetans, that they stand out to be a sign of extreme desperation,” he said. “It is still a choice of last resort. In other words, Tibetans do not see this as strategic, as a way of getting attention. They see it as a way indicating that the pressure on these monks is so great that they do not feel they have any other choice.”
See also previous CDT coverage of self-immolation and Tibet protests, including two demonstrators shot by security forces in Sichuan last week.