Tibet’s burning protest

More Tibetans are setting themselves ablaze in desperate protest against Chinese occupation of their homeland – Publisheed on Al Jazeera, by Felix Gaedtke and Gayatri Parameswaran, June 1, 2012.

The mood at the football stadium in Dharamsala, northern India, was sombre early this week. Sport wasn’t on the agenda that evening. Hundreds of exiled Tibetans gathered to mourn. As the sun went down on the hill town, they held a candlelight vigil and offered prayers to commemorate two young men who had set themselves on fire in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, a day earlier.   

The two were only among the latest in a continuing wave of self-immolations, a desperate form of protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Three days later, 33-year-old Rikyo, a mother of three, set herself alight.

According to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), 38 people have immolated themselves in Tibet since 2009. In 2012 alone, Tibet has seen 25 self-immolations, 20 of which have resulted in death. This week’s immolations in Lhasa could indicate that the movement is now spreading beyond Sichuan province in southwest China, a region fighting to be part of the Tibet Autonomous Region … //

… Spiritual angle:

A majority of self-immolators held monastic positions or were formerly enrolled at monasteries. The first recorded incident took place in February 2009 when Tapey, a monk in Kirti monastery in Ngaba County, burned himself. Since then, Kirti, the biggest monastery in Ngaba, part of Sichuan province, has been at the centre of these protests.

Historically, Tibetan monasteries have offered spiritual and political leadership to its people. Kanyag Tsering, spokesperson of the Kirti monastery’s exiled branch in Dharamsala, says his colleagues back home are continuing to play their traditional role. “Tibetans have no trust in the Chinese administration. They rely on monasteries for political and spiritual guidance. And the monasteries have been challenging the [Chinese] government on behalf of the lay people,” he said.

The 31-year-old monk says the Chinese government cracks down on religious institutions because of the support they offer to people. Tsering has been collecting information about the increased surveillance in Ngaba. “For several months in 2009, monks were not allowed to leave the monastery and civilians were not allowed to enter. Today, there are about 15 surveillance cameras within a stretch of one kilometre from the gate of the monastery to the main door,” he said.

Violent or non-violent? … //

… Protests spreading:

The protests have spread to neighbouring countries as well. In November 2011, Bhutuk, a monk in Nepal, survived after self-immolation. Four months later 27-year-old Jamphel Yeshi, a Tibetan student in New Delhi, died a couple of days after setting himself on fire in the Indian capital.

Yeshi’s friend Lobsang Jinpa, a former Tibetan political prisoner currently residing in Dharamsala, recollects the time they spent together. “He was always interested in politics. He would ask me what was the most difficult part of being in a Chinese prison and I would tell him about my experiences there. We would talk about the situation in Tibet for hours. He was very political,” Jinpa said.

Jinpa, who was forced into exile, had never imagined that his friend would resort to such an extreme measure. “I wasn’t expecting it. On the day of the protest, he didn’t go along with me. He came alone, by himself. And I just remember seeing someone on fire at the protest site. I recognised soon that it was Yeshi. There was chaos. Some people tried dousing the fire. But I couldn’t move…” Jinpa recounted.

Yeshi left behind a letter in which he expressed his wish for the complete freedom of Tibet, the return of the Dalai Lama to Free Tibet, and increased patriotism among Tibetan exiles.

Jinpa fled to India a year ago after being released from prison. He hasn’t spoken to his friends since, but he claims to know what’s on their minds. “People in Tibet are growing more and more desperate as Chinese repression increases. If nothing happens now, more and more people will burn themselves to death,” he says.
(full text and video, 25.12 min).

Link: Arrests reported after Tibet self-immolations: Hundreds detained in Lhasa after two monks set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule, radio station says, on Al Jazeera, May 31, 2012.

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