79th Tibetan Self-Immolation Reported

Exile news site Phayul reports the tenth self-immolation in Tongren (Rebkong) this month, bringing the overall total since 2009 to 79. The Dharamshala-based site also claims that Chinese officials have been ordered to deter further protests by punishing family members.

In confirmed reports received by Phayul, Lubum Gyal, 18, set himself ablaze in Dowa town of Rebkong, eastern Tibet at around 4:20 pm (local time) in an apparent protest against China’s continued occupation of Tibet.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency also reported on the incident, confirming that the self-immolator (Libong Tsering) succumbed to his injuries.

“Lubum Gyal set himself on fire in protest against the Chinese government in Dowa town,” Sonam, an exile Tibetan with close contacts in the region told Phayul. “Soon, a large number of Tibetans gathered and rescued his body from falling into the hands of Chinese authorities.”

[…] The Chinese officials were reportedly implementing the five-point notification issued by the Malho Prefectural office and Malho People’s government on November 14 giving stern orders to local officials “to punish self-immolators and their families; even those who had offered condolences and prayers to the bereaved family members and relatives.”

CNN reported more broadly on the self-immolations on Thursday. The network’s Paul Armstrong suggested that the difficulty of verifying news of the protests with journalists and independent monitors barred from the region has suppressed the level of media coverage abroad:

When a downtrodden Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire in protest after his vegetable cart was confiscated by officials, this desperate act of self-sacrifice was seen as a catalyst for a revolution that became known as the Arab Spring.

Contrast this with China, where almost 80 people — men and women — have self-immolated since 2009 in protest against Beijing’s poor treatment of Tibet, according to rights groups. Yet details of these cases are often sketchy and difficult to verify, such is the stranglehold China has over the region.

As a result the issue has yet to gain real traction internationally.

At Global Voices Online, Oiwan Lam translated messages left behind by 19 of the self-immolators, originally compiled in Chinese by Woeser. Two of the 19 were from Tongren:

Nyankar Tashi (娘尕扎西), 24 years old, self-immolated on November [12], 2012 in Tongren County, Qinghai Province. He left a letter to Dalai and Panchen Lama as well as to six million Tibetans:

Tibet needs freedom and independence. Release Panchen and let Dalai return home. I self-immolate to protest against the Chinese government! Father, please don’t be disheartened because of me. I follow the Buddha and Goodness. My wish is that six million Tibetans will learn their mother tongue, wear Tibetan clothes and be united.

Tingzin (丹珍措), 23-year-old herdswoman living with her parents and her six-year-old son, self-immolated on November 7, 2012 before the 18th National Chinese Communist Party Congress in Tongren […]. She left her last words to her father:

Father, being a Tibetan is so difficult. We can’t even say our prayer to Dalai Lama’s portrait. We have no freedom at all…

Nyankar Tashi’s message, like that of 18-year-old Nya Drul, stresses the importance of language and dress as defiant expressions of Tibetan identity. The widespread fear, both within Tibet and in exile, that such identity will be extinguished has given rise to the ‘Lhakar’ movement. From Lhakar Diaries:

Lhakar, meaning ‘White Wednesday,’ (the Dalai Lama’s ‘soul day’) is about resisting China’s occupation and the pressure to become sinicized by making the effort each Wednesday to speak the Tibetan language, wear Tibetan clothes, eat Tibetan food and shop at Tibetan merchants. Lhakar is about being Tibetan.

See more on Tibet and the self-immolations there via CDT.