Rare Visit to Tibetan Region Shows Depth of Despair

Another monk set himself on fire in Aba County, Sichuan, on Monday, bringing the total number of self-immolations among Tibetans to 24 in the past three years, with at least 13 fatalities. While the authorities are working hard to block access to the area to outsiders and restrict Internet usage, foreign journalists have managed to sneak in. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts filed a dramatic video report of himself crouched down in the back of a car. And Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers also sneaked through police checkpoints where he spoke with a monk who surreptitiously showed him a photograph of a family member that he said had been killed by a Chinese security officer:

It is a sorrow that cannot be spoken of in public. A local government “working team” visits the monastery often, looking for signs of discontent, according to monks there. Sometimes, they said, when returning to their living quarters from chanting or studying, the monks find a door busted in and possessions scattered after a search.

The monk showed the snapshot as a way of explaining why ethnic Tibetans, mostly current or former Buddhist clergy, are setting themselves on fire in Aba and surrounding regions in an unprecedented show of protest against Chinese rule. Since March 2011, between 20 and 23 have committed self-immolations, according to rights groups. Of those, at least 13 are said to have died.

“China in our eyes is not fair or peaceful,” said the monk, a man in his early 40s who, like every ethnic Tibetan interviewed for this story, did so on the condition that he not be named and that certain details be withheld, for fear of getting dragged off by police. “We are suffering a lot in our hearts, and when we can no longer bear it we burn ourselves to death.”

The Chinese government and its media have confirmed some of the self-immolations and denied others. The government, though, goes to extensive lengths to prevent outsiders from visiting this area. Police routinely block roads, search vehicles and turn back foreigners, especially journalists.

Read more about protests by Tibetans, including self-immolations, via CDT.


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