Tibetan Self-Immolations Continue

The recent surge in self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Beijing’s policies has continued unabated. At least 76 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009. Most recently, 25-year-old Wangchen Norbu set himself on fire in Qinghai on Monday. From Voice of America:

Sources in the region say that Norbu set himself ablaze near Kangtsa Gaden Choephelling Monastery and shouted slogans calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, release of the Panchen Lama and freedom for Tibet.

Around 10:30 pm local time, the crowds are reported to have shouted slogans calling for the return of the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to Tibet. As of receiving the report, the gathering of monks and local people are reported to be reciting long life prayers for the Dalai Lama.

The situation in the area is tense with paramilitary forces surrounding the area.

Then today, another man was reported to have self-immolated in Xiahe, Gansu, though few details are available. From AFP:

The Xinhua News Agency says herder Tsering Dongdri set himself on fire Tuesday in a remote area of Xiahe county in a Tibetan part of the western province of Gansu.

The Hindu also reports on two cases over the past weekend in Rebkong (Tongren), Qinghai, which has become a locus for self-immolation protests in recent weeks. The Hindu describes the town center:

The Dolma Square, named after a golden statue of Jetsun Dolma, a Bodhisattva and female deity known for her compassion, has been a site of several protests by Rongwo monks and local Tibetans since March, when two Tibetans set themselves on fire in the town. The square sits at the entrance of the Rongwo monastery, which is a site of significance for Tibetans and particularly for the Yellow Hat sect, for whom the Dalai Lama is the most important figure.

During a visit to Rebkong in April, The Hindu found tight security outside Dolma Square, where a black SWAT van was permanently stationed. Monks at Rongwo Monastery told The Hindu in interviews that tensions had been high in the monastery after two self-immolation protests at Dolma Square in March, where a monk and a farmer, in separate incidents, set themselves on fire.

Rebkong is a quiet town, where small Tibetan shops displaying artwork and handicrafts line narrow, muddy streets that run outside the monastery’s walls. Further down the road from the monastery, monks and school-students walk amidst groups of paramilitary security forces.

In recent weeks, the town has emerged at the centre of spreading self-immolation protests, with Tibetan monks in India, citing their sources in Rongwo, recording at least eight protests since November 7, the day before the Communist Party of China began its leadership congress.

LinkTV interviewed Columbia University Tibet scholar Robert Barnett about the self-immolations and the Chinese government’s response:

Advocacy groups, including International Campaign for Tibet, have reported stringent restrictions on the families of those who have died from self-immolation. According to ICT:

Officials in the Rebkong area have warned people that they cannot go to the homes of those who self-immolated and express their condolences. They also said that if monks go to pray for self-immolators, monasteries will be closed down, and that the families of self-immolators will be punished.

For its part, Xinhua News reported that monks in Tibetan regions are being trained as fire fighters, without mentioning the self-immolations:

As a part of the Aba prefectural government’s efforts to better protect more than 250 monasteries in the areas against fire risks, four monasteries: Dagcha, Tisannyi, Mewa, and Changlie, were chosen to participate in a trial program to create their own firefighting teams.

Young and strong candidates are chosen to take part in regular training sessions that teach them how to detect fire risks, fight fires and protect themselves. Courses held by the Aba prefectural fire brigade also cover laws and regulations pertaining to firecontrol.

In addition to their usual routine of studying scriptures and meditating, the monks engage in firefighting training sessions once a week. Large rooms outside temple prayer halls are used as fire control offices.

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