Two Tibetans Set Themselves Alight In Sichuan (Updated)

After over a dozen people, including one nun, set themselves on fire in the past year in order to protest Beijing’s strict control over ethnically Tibetan areas, two more Tibetans have set themselves alight in Sichuan. One man has died, and the other has been seriously injured. BBC reports:

Chinese state media confirmed the incidents occurred in the traditionally Tibetan region of .

London-based Free group said the men were protesting over Chinese rule.

A 22-year-old former monk was taken to hospital with serious burns after setting himself alight at a crossroads in Sichuan’s Aba prefecture, China’s Xinhua news agency said.

Another former monk died after burning himself to death in a hotel around the same time, Xinhua said.

AP has more details about the incident and its aftermath:

U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia said hundreds of angry Tibetans forced police to hand over the remains of the 42-year-old monk, named Sopa, then carried them through the streets in Dari county in Qinghai province.

It said the monk died Sunday morning after drinking and throwing kerosene over his body. Radio Free Asia quote a source as saying Sopa’s “body exploded in pieces” before police took it away.

Two other men set themselves on fire Friday in Sichuan province. At least 15 monks, nuns and former monks are now believed to have set themselves on fire in the past year. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the , who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Radio Free Asia said police first refused to give up the body but relented after “the protesters smashed windows and doors of the local police station,” according to another source.

The Dalai Lama has blamed recent self-immolations on China’s policies toward Tibet, but researchers at the Sichuan Tibetology Research Center have claimed that the Dalai Lama enticed these men to commit the self-immolations. China Daily adds:

“The several self-immolation cases recently were committed by people who previously had got punished for their wrongdoings such as whoring, gambling and burglary, or deep in debt because of gambling,” said Gang Zheng, a Tibetology expert with the Sichuan Tibetology Research Center.

The Dalai Lama was trying to make this serve his political purposes, said Yi Fei, another Tibetology expert with the center.

The two most recent were both former monks who had resumed a secular life. According to state media, these two former monks had been accused of being involved in the theft of a Buddha statue in Kirti Monastery. The Times of India reports:

The official media quoted a government-run think-tank as saying those indulging in self-immolation were former monks, who had been found to be involved in several cases of wrongdoing including stealing and whoring. The dead monk had stolen the statue of Buddha at the , it said.

This is a new form of accusation against monks, who had earlier been accused of anti-national and anti-social activities.

Investigations by local officials showed that the former monks, as the State-run Xinhua News Agency described them, had clashed with local authorities in recent months. It did not explain why they has lost their status as monks, but it is possible that pro-government forces in the Kirti Monastery in Aba Country, had removed them for anti-government behavior.

The Wall Street Journal looks at the epidemic of self-immolations and revisits the monasteries where a nun and a monk both set themselves on fire last year:

On Sunday, a separate Xinhua article, which made no mention of the self-immolations, said that senior Tibet officials pledged stepped-up efforts to strengthen the management of monasteries, saying that promoting harmony in Tibet is a priority because it concerns the stability of the nation.

In one incident in November, Palden Choetso, a 35-year-old nun at the Gaden Choeling nunnery, doused herself in gasoline, gulped several mouthfuls, and set herself ablaze, according to accounts by her fellow nuns.

Shortly afterward, friends of the Tibetan nun found a list of names pinned above her bed in the small wooden hut where she lived. Ms. Palden was compiling a tally of Tibetans who had set themselves on fire, all in the same corner of western Sichuan, in protest of China’s policies in the region—adjacent to the Tibet Autonomous Region and heavily populated by ethnic Tibetans. Among the names was Tsewang Norbu, 29, a monk at the local Nyitso monastery.

In Daofu, where Ms. Palden and Mr. Tsewang self-immolated, they have become martyrs to some. Their photographs are displayed in the town’s homes. A video circulating on the Internet shows Ms. Palden’s body engulfed in flames; as she struggles to stay upright, a woman runs toward her and casts a white scarf at her feet in a gesture of respect.

UPDATE (Jan. 9, 4:15 PST): The New York Times has more details about the weekend’s self-immolations:

Analysts who sympathize with ethnic Tibetans’ criticism of Beijing’s conduct say this month’s deaths underscore that the crackdown has failed to quell Tibetans’ demands for greater religious and political latitude. While most suicide victims were young monks, Sopa, who self-immolated on Sunday morning in Qinghai Province, was a 42-year-old senior clergyman. Like many Tibetans, he went by one name.

His death indicates that suicide is increasingly accepted as an expression of political opposition among Tibetans and that the government’s harsh response has only made it more popular, Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview.

“We clearly see this form of protest is resonating within the Tibetan community,” he said. “The government is trying to prevent these incidents by strengthening control, but too much repression and control is what provokes these acts. So it is a vicious circle.”

Read more about the recent self-immolations via CDT.


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