China to Press Murder Charges for Inciting Tibet Immolations

As part of an effort to quell the surge of self-immolations by protesting Tibetans, Chinese authorities have cracked down on families and sympathizers of self-immolators. Now, they are taking it a step further by imposing murder charges on anyone “inciting” self-immolations, without clearly defining which behavior would be included. From AFP:

A joint legal opinion issued by China’s supreme court, top prosecution body and police said the charge of “intentional murder” should apply to anyone urging Tibetans to set themselves alight, the state-run Gannan Daily reported.

Beijing regularly accuses the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, of inciting the burnings. He said last month that Beijing was more interested in criticising him than finding the reasons for the self-immolations.


“The recent self immolations in Tibean areas are mutually linked to hostile forces in and out of China, they are plotted, organised and incited by separatist nations and are seriously odious incidents aimed at destroying ethnic unity and fomenting social disorder,” the paper said.

“The legal opinion clearly points out that those criminals behind the scenes who plan, incite, aide, abet … and help those perpetrating self immolations will be investigated for criminal liability in the crime of intentional murder.”

On Twitter, Todd Stein of the International Campaign for Tibet posed a series of situations which could potentially be deemed “incitement” under the new law:

On New Tang Dynasty Television, Tenzin Dorjee, aka Tendor, the Executive Director of Student for a Free Tibet, explains some of the grievances that have led Tibetans to self-immolate:

Update: The San Francisco-based Duihua Foundation has translated the text of the directives, published in the Gannan Daily:

The Opinion points out that the recent self-immolations that have occurred in Tibetan areas are cases of significant evil that result from collusion between hostile forces inside and outside our borders whose attempts to use premeditated, organized plots to incite splittism, undermine ethnic unity, and seriously disrupt social order. [The cases] have seriously affected the present overall situation of ethnic unity and social stability in Tibetan areas. Those who carry out self-immolations in these cases are unlike the ordinary world-weary person who commits suicide. Their common motivation is to split the nation and they endanger public safety and social order, classifying their self-immolations as illegal criminal acts. Organizing, plotting, inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations is, at its essence, a serious criminal act that intentionally deprives another of his or her life.

Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes compassion and not killing as fundamental precepts. However, those who plot self-immolations cloak their illegal criminal acts with religion and have desecrated the faith of the broad masses of believers in Tibetan Buddhism. The Opinion makes clear that those criminals who act as principal culprits behind the scenes to organize, direct, and plot [self-immolations], as well as those who actively participate in inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations, will be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law of the PRC and targeted for severe punishment in accordance with the law. As for self-immolators themselves, once the nature of their illegal acts has been clarified, they should be treated differently depending on specific circumstances such as the extent of their malign intentions and the degree of the harm caused by their acts. If the circumstances are serious and major harm has been caused, they should also be held legally liable in accordance with the law.

In their introduction to the translation, Duihua points out:

It is unlikely that either the criminalization of self-immolation or heavy-handed propaganda will lead to the resolution of the longstanding grievances that underlie the protests. Recent government policies appear aimed at integrating these peripheral ethnic regions more firmly into the dominant economic, social, and cultural order of China, without giving due consideration to the desires of inhabitants there. Though self-immolation may appear to some as a senseless act, for those who choose this form of protest such sacrifice may reflect the relative lack of other means to express the suffering and indignity experienced by Tibetans.


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