News / Asia

Protests Follow Wave of Immolations in Tibetan Areas of China

William Ide

Tibet analysts and human rights advocates say the spread of protests in Tibetan parts of China are the latest sign of growing dissatisfaction among Tibetans with Chinese government policies. And there is concern now, they say, that the situation could get much worse.

Concern about protests in Tibetan areas of China, particularly in the southwestern province of Sichuan, have been building since March of last year. Since then, at least 16 Tibetan monks and nuns, and some former monks have burned themselves to death to protest China's policies.

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch in Washington D.C. says that while some may have hoped the immolations were isolated incidents and an aberration, it is clear now that this is not the case.

"The numbers of them (immolations) that we've seen, even just in the past couple of weeks, the fact that they are spreading geographically, the fact that there are now other kinds of protests going on, some of them related to the immolations, some of them not, but all of them clearly expressing unhappiness with Chinese government policies, indicates that this problem is getting worse and not better," she said.

Steve Marshall is a senior advisor for the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, who has spent more than two decades researching human rights violations in Tibetan areas of China. He says that what is happening in Tibetan areas, the protests this week and immolations, is a sign that things have already gotten out of control.

"I think things are already moving farther than Chinese authorities want them to be and they are becoming bigger. And certainly the methods that the Chinese security forces and government are using to deal with these protests are having exactly the opposite effect that the government would like," he said.

In addition to two protests that occurred in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province on Monday and Tuesday sources tell VOA's Tibetan service that the authorities arrested at least eight men Tuesday in the Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of neighboring Sichuan's Qinghai Province. Sources say hundreds had rallied there to protest, demanding the withdraw of security and military forces that have been deployed around two monasteries in the area.

Earlier Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry played down the reports of protests Monday in Sichuan's Luhuo, but did confirm that one person was killed in the confrontation.

The ministry says reports of more than 30 shooting victims among several thousand Tibetan protesters who participated on Monday in Luhuo were, in his words, "hyped" (exaggerated).   

The U.S. State Department says it is seriously concerned about reports of violence and heightened tensions in Tibetan areas of China.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "We have repeatedly urged the Chinese government to address its counterproductive policies in the Tibetan areas, which have created tensions and threaten the unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people."

The U.S. is also urging the Chinese government to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives and that they will raise the issue when China's Vice President Xi Jinping visits Washington next month.

China has refused to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, and routinely blames him for orchestrating unrest in Tibetan areas of China from overseas. It has also branded those who have decided to burn themselves to death as terrorists.

Still, with the March anniversary of last year's first immolation on the horizon and the anniversary of widespread protests in 2008, which also began in March of that year, analysts say that over the next two months we may see dissent continue to grow and spread.

Again, Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. "I think unfortunately we are going to see more immolations, more protests and more heavy-handed responses. It's up to the Chinese government, at this point, to uphold some very basic obligations under its own laws and under its international commitments to the right to peaceful protest to refraining from using lethal force," she said.

Tibetans who participated in demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday were said to be protesting the earlier arrests of some activists distributing pamphlets calling for Tibetan freedom from Chinese rule.  The pamphlets also warned that more Tibetans were ready to set themselves on fire to protest the Chinese crackdown.

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