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December 31, 2012

Tibetan Activists Seek Attention, Action With Self-Immolations

by Jerome Socolovsky

The government in Beijing is reported to be tightening controls in parts of Tibet where residents have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. Nearly a hundred self-immolations have been reported in a wave that began in 2009, and most are said to have ended in death. Tibetan activists outside the region are seeking to draw attention to the plight of their people.

A group of Tibetan activists recently went door to door at the offices of U.S congressmen. They were rounding up signatures for a petition about the self-immolations in Tibet.

"We're actually here to ask Congress members to sign a letter that was headed by Congress members Wolf and McGovern to be sent to Barack Obama about what's been happening inside of Tibet," said Dadon Ngodup, who was born in India and has never known the land of her parents.

Fighting authoritarian rule

As an amateur cell phone video shows, young people have been setting themselves on fire in the streets of Tibet with hundreds of monks turning out for a funeral of one of their own. Kirti monastry is said to be the focal point of the movement.

These activists in Washington say Tibetans are despairing after more than 60 years of Chinese occupation.

"Honestly for me it's no longer about, 'We want a free Tibet, We want a free Tibet.' We're just talking about human lives that are being burned because they feel like they can't do anything else," said Ngodup.

Respect and sacrifice

One of Buddhism's key teachings is one must not kill any living being. The exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, preaches non-violence.

But Buddhism also includes the ideal of the Bodhisattvas - who sacrifice their own salvation for the greater good.

Tenzin Dorjee is with the International Tibet Network.

"When Tibetans look at the self-immolations, the way we see this is as an act of compassion, as an act of altruism. And every single Tibetan who has done this has not harmed a single other human being in the process," said Dorjee.

The Obama administration has said it believes the self-immolations have been exacerbated by tough Chinese policies in the region.

Increasing pressure

China has regularly made strong shows of force, and images of the Dalai Lama are banned. And that's who Beijing blames for the immolations.

"Maiming and destroying human life in order to reach a Tibetan independence separatist political goal will never succeed," said Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry.

State television recently showed an interview with a suspect who allegedly confessed to promising immolators they will become heroes abroad. Which they have, most certainly, for these activists.

Their vigil continues with a peace prayer as night falls at the White House.

The unprecedented wave of immolations is increasing international attention toward Tibet. These activists are hoping it will lead the Obama administration to increase pressure on the Chinese government.