UN Speaks Out on Tibet

As tensions mount in China with an upsurge in Tibetan self-immolations in recent weeks, a Tibetan artist has died after setting himself on fire protesting Chinese rule, from AP:

The man set fire to himself Sunday morning in Tongren, a monastery town in western China’s Qinghai province, said the exile government based in Dharamsala, India, and London-based Free Tibet.

Free Tibet identified the dead person as Dorje Lungdup, 25, a father of two children and an artist of traditional Thangka religious paintings. It said thousands of people reportedly gathered to say prayers for him, and that people decided to cremate his body soon after to prevent authorities from interfering.

A representative of Dorje Lungdup’s family told the crowd that he set fire to himself to call for the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and begged them not to protest for the sake of their own safety, Free Tibet said.

A man at the Tongren county government said he couldn’t hear clearly and asked The Associated Press to call back. Calls then rang unanswered, as did calls to police.

The New York Times reports the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights is faulting China on Tibetan suppression:

The top human rights official of the United Nations took China to task on Friday over the suppression of Tibetans’ rights that she said had driven them to “desperate forms of protest,” referring to about 60 self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Chinese rule that have been reported since March 2011, including seven since mid-October.

The official, Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement that she was disturbed by reports of detentions, disappearances and the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, as well as curbs on Tibetans’ cultural rights. Ms. Pillay said “serious concerns” had been raised over the claims of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and about the standards of their trials.

Ms. Pillay said she had had “several exchanges” with the Chinese government on the issue, and her rare public criticism of China’s conduct on human rights appeared to reflect a measure of frustration.

“We felt the time had come to talk publicly about that,” a spokesman for Ms. Pillay, Rupert Colville, said Friday in Geneva. Self-immolations are evidence of how serious the situation in Tibet has become, Mr. Colville said, and “we don’t see any visible signs of progress.”

Pillay’s criticism of China comes ahead of the upcoming 18th party congress, but according to Reuters, her statement was not meant to coincide with the congress:

Her spokesman said the appeal was not issued to coincide with a Communist Party congress opening next week, but that the “time had come to talk publicly” about allegations of violence against Tibetans seeking to exercise their fundamental freedoms.

China’s foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment. Beijing has branded the self-immolators “terrorists” and criminals and accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama, of inciting them.

As United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she said she recognized Tibetans’ intense sense of frustration but urged community and religious leaders to use their influence to help prevent people from setting themselves on fire.
Activists say China tramples on religious freedom and culture in Tibet, which has been ruled with an iron fist since the 1950 takeover. China rejects such criticism, saying its rule ended serfdom and brought development to a backward area.

Pillay has also requested to visit China, but no date has been set. Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia reports that Chinese authorities have clamped down on the region, restricting information exchange and movements of Tibetans:

“Tibet has been virtually cut off from the rest of the world,” a Tibetan living in Sichuan province’s Kardze prefecture told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Usually, local Tibetans communicate among themselves using [the texting service] WeChat, but even this is now entirely blocked, and Tibetans can no longer use it to send messages within China.”

“The purpose of the blackout is to prevent the spread of news concerning possible protests in Tibet during the 18th Party Congress,” a second Tibetan source in Kardze said, also on condition he not be named.

Separately, a Tibetan living in the Tibet Autonomous Region reported tightened controls on the movements of Tibetans traveling to large cities like Chamdo and the regional capital Lhasa, noting that travelers are now frequently stopped at police checkpoints and required to present government identification papers.

See also Blowin in the Wind by Hexie Farm, via CDT. Read more about Tibetan self-immolations via CDT.


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