Tibetan self-immolations have been the topic of a political, religious and scholarly debate, in which the Dalai Lama has decided to remain neutral. On Saturday September 29, a man in Qinghai province set himself alight, just after Tibetan exiles met in Dharmsala to discuss ways of discouraging such drastic means of protest (the Dalai Lama did not participate in these discussions). Yet another Tibetan died after self-immolating on Thursday, October 4, the latest casualty in a trend that began in 2009. Radio Free Asia reports:
A Tibetan man set himself ablaze and died Thursday in a central Tibetan county in the second self-immolation protest challenging Chinese rule in the past week, according to Tibetan sources.
Gudrub, 41, shouted slogans calling for Tibetan freedom and for the return to Tibet of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as he self-immolated in Driru [in Chinese, Biru] county in the Nagchu prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region, a source told RFA’s Tibetan service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
[…]Gudrub, who returned to Tibet in 2005 after studying at the exile Sogar School in Dharamsala, India, was a resident of Kali village in the Shagchu subdistrict of Driru county, and was an enthusiastic reader of Tibetan history, sources said.
A writer and poet, Gudrub had been known to post about the situation in Tibet on his personal blog. Voice of America recalls one of his posts from earlier this year:
This past March, Gudrup blogged about the anti-China protests that had gripped southwestern China and Tibet, writing on March 14 “Tibetans who refuse to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama or accept China’s rule on Tibet are secretly killed or made to disappear.”
In the same post, Gudrup called on fellow Tibetans to “win the battle through truth, by shooting arrows upon our lives.”
He also warned Tibetans “are sharpening our nonviolent movement… declaring the reality of Tibet by burning our own bodies to call for freedom.”
The count of those who have self-immolated and lost their lives doing so varies depending on the source. A post today from Tibetan blogger Woeser tallies 58 self-immolators since 2009 (55 inside Tibetan regions of China, and 3 in the exile community), 46 of whom have perished. The recent post by Woeser [zh] also translates a poem that Gudrub left behind on his blog from Tibetan into Chinese:
Brothers and sisters of the snow-covered Tibetan land, when looking back at our past, very rarely is it a joyful scene—I have only regret, anger, heartbreak and tears. When I welcomed the year of the Water Dragon, I prayed for health, peace and the fulfillment of wishes. At the same time, I hoped for the perseverance of our ethnic pride even when confronting hardship and loss. We mustn’t lose our faith, we must strengthen our unity.
Inside China, there has been little media coverage of Tibetan protests or ensuing government crackdowns. The news of this most recent self-immolation comes just days after Radio Free Asia reported on harsh sentences handed to 4 Tibetans for supporting self-immolation and leaking information:
Chinese courts have ordered four Tibetan men jailed to between seven and 11 years after accusing them of supporting a self-immolation protest and of leaking news of protests against Chinese rule to “outside contacts,” according to Tibetan sources.
[…]During the first week of September, a Chinese court sentenced Kirti monk Lobsang Tsultrim, 19, to 11 years in prison, and fellow monk Lobsang Jangchub, 17, to an eight-year term, Tsering and Yeshi said.
[…]Separately, a court in Sichuan’s Barkham (in Chinese, Ma’erkang) county sentenced a monk and a layman to long prison terms for “leaking news from inside Tibet to outside contacts,” Tsering and Yeshe said, citing local sources.
[…]The court also sentenced a layman, Bu Thubdor, 25, who was also detained in November, to a seven-and-a-half year term on the same charge, Tsering and Yeshe said.
On a related note, the Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed concern surrounding the unknown whereabouts of Jigme Gyatso, a former colleague of Dhondup Wangchen. In 2008, Wangchen made the documentary “Leaving Fear Behind,” after which he was charged with state subversion. Filming for Tibet, a site dedicated to Wangchen, explains how social media is being used in the search for Jigme Gyatso:
At great personal risk, Tibetan netizens have been posting on social media sites and alerting each other about Jigme Gyatso’s disappearance. A post on the Sina Weibo microblogging site from September 30, 2012 (screenshot above) says that “Jigme Gyatso has been missing for the last 10 days”.
Another post also from September 30 on Tibetan blog-hosting site Sangdhor.com titled “Looking for Jigdrel’s Jigme” says in Tibetan, “It has been over 10 days since we are not knowing the whereabouts of Jigme, maker of the film “Leaving Fear Behind”, also known as Golog Jigme. This is causing family and friends to worry. Looking for information about him, please contact us immediately, thank you.” This post was deleted from Sangdhor.com very quickly.