Four self-immolations by Tibetans in the past three days brings the total to seven this week and at least 62 since 2009. According to the scant details available about the most recent cases, three of the four self-immolators have died. Since February 2009, Tibetans in various regions have set themselves on fire as a form of protest against Beijing’s policies in Tibet. Radio Free Asia reports on two men who set themselves on fire in Sangchu (Xiahe) county, near Labrang Monastery in Gansu, on Friday. Both died:
In the first incident, Lhamo Tseten, 24, set himself ablaze at 2:30 p.m. near a People’s Armed Police post in Amchok township, Sangchu county, in the Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
The other self-immolation occurred almost six hours later when Tsepak Kyab, 21, burned to death on the main street of Sangkhok township, also in Sangchu, a Tibetan living in India told RFA’s Tibetan service.
The past week saw five protest burnings in Gansu and brings to 60 the total number of self-immolations challenging Beijing’s rule since February 2009.
Lhamo Tseten torched himself after lunch with his friends in Amchok township.
“He was dining at a restaurant with friends. Then he slowly walked out, and, amid shouts from the crowd, ran into the street engulfed in flames,” one witness said, according to Tibetan websites.
Earlier this week, two men, Dorjee Rinchen and Dhondup, died after setting themselves on fire in the same region while another man, Lhamo Kyeb, died elsewhere in Sangchu (Xiahe) County.
Over the weekend, reports came in about an earlier incident on Thursday in which twins both self-immolated; one of them reportedly died. From AP:
The London-based group Free Tibet said cousins Tsepo, 20, and Tenzin, 25, called for independence for Tibet as they set themselves ablaze Thursday in front of a government building in their village in Biru county north of Lhasa, Tibet’s main city.
Tsepo reportedly died and Tenzin’s condition was unknown after he was taken away by authorities, Free Tibet said.
Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet, a London-based exile organization, explains the difficulty in obtaining information about the incidents:
“It has taken two days for information about this latest protest [by Tsepo and Tenzin] to emerge. Tibetans in Driru County are being intimidated in both visible and invisible ways.
“Chinese state security forces have been deployed in large numbers across Driru County. The internet and telephones are often blocked and, when they are working, Tibetans are afraid to talk about what is happening because they fear that their communications are being monitored by the government. Given recent disappearances and convictions of up to seven years imprisonment related to charges of sharing information, their fears are likely to be justified.
High Peaks Pure Earth blog tweeted about the apparent silence from websites inside Tibet:
— HighPeaks PureEarth (@hpeaks) October 27, 2012
In an effort to end the deaths and to gather information about the planning of the self-immolations, the government in some regions has offered reward money for information about planned incidents, Voice of America reports. Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University, weighs in on the potential impact of this move:
Barnett says it is difficult to determine the significance of the reward money.
“If they [Chinese officials] are moving to a stage where they think that the exiles are planning them (the self-immolations) rather than just encouraging them, that would be a new development,” he said.
And Barnett says there appears to be an element of fear about how the powerfully symbolic protests are spreading.
“I think that this [the patten of self-immolations] is conceived as dangerous by the authorities. The fact that this movement is spreading further to the east, closer to the Chinese borders, into these populations where you have educated Tibetans – students, monks – who have a tradition of thinking for themselves, I think they may be concerned about this,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Didi Kirsten Tatlow links the recent self-immolations to government propaganda, including a song performed by famous folk singer and incoming First Lady Peng Liyuan:
The “Laundry Song” is a nearly 50-year-old propaganda classic, meant to persuade Tibetans of the People’s Liberation Army’s virtues, but its spirit clearly doesn’t resonate with the more than 60 men and women who have burned themselves to death protesting the Communist Party’s rule over Tibet. Here’s the first verse of the song, which can be heard in full by clicking on the video footage [below]:
“Hey! Who is going to help us turn over a new leaf?
Who is going to liberate us?
It’s the dear P.L.A.,
The saving star of the Communist Party.
The army and the people are one family,
Helping us to wash our clothes.”
“For the Sino-Tibetan relationship though, the song puts the Tibetans firmly in a position of subservience, as natives, full of gratitude for the help of the benevolent People’s Liberation Army. The trope of washing clothes fits in also with the Socialist preoccupation with Patriotic Hygiene,” since “observing hygiene rules came to be seen as patriotic,” [High Peaks Pure Earth] wrote.
Five years after Ms. Peng’s spirited rendition was aired by the state broadcaster CCTV, the shocking, early flickers of self-immolations appear to be spreading into something more like a horrifying and persistent fire.
For a full list of and details about protesters who have self-immolated, see Free Tibet or the International Campaign for Tibet [as of this posting, these lists had not yet been updated to include the three most recent incidents.] Both these organizations report 59 cases, not including the most recent three. Tibetan writer Woeser reports a slightly different number due to two cases whose circumstances are not clear. Read more about self-immolations via CDT.