News / Asia

More Tibetans Self-Immolate as China's Party Congress Opens

Tibetan Self-Immolations, updated November 8, 2012Tibetan Self-Immolations, updated November 8, 2012
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Tibetan Self-Immolations, updated November 8, 2012
Tibetan Self-Immolations, updated November 8, 2012
Two more Tibetans have set themselves afire to protest Chinese policies in Tibet, raising the total of self-immolation protests to six in the past two days.

Word of the new protests came as China opened its 18th Party Congress in Beijing for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

On Thursday 18-year-old Kalsang Jinpa died after setting himself on fire in Rongwo town in Rebkong, eastern Tibet (called Qinghai Province in Chinese).

Witnesses say the former monk raised a white banner calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet.  They also say the protest drew a large crowd and the situation there remains tense.
 
Rebkong has now seen five self-immolation protests since March, including Wednesday's fatal protest by a 23-year-old single mother, Tamding Tso.

Tibetan exiles also confirmed Thursday that another man set himself on fire a day earlier in Driru, in Nagchu Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
 
On Wednesday, three teenage monks from the Ngoshul Monastery in Goman Township set themselves afire.  One of them died on the scene.

The new self-immolations bring the total number to at least 69 since February of 2009.  In 54 cases, the protesters have died.

Tamding Tso, a Tibetan mother activists say self-immolated in Rebkong, China on November 7, 2012.Tamding Tso, a Tibetan mother activists say self-immolated in Rebkong, China on November 7, 2012.
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Tamding Tso, a Tibetan mother activists say self-immolated in Rebkong, China on November 7, 2012.
Tamding Tso, a Tibetan mother activists say self-immolated in Rebkong, China on November 7, 2012.
In Dharamsala, India Thursday exiled Tibetans gathered to pay homage to the protesters during a special prayer service.

One of them, Lamsa, expressed hope the fiery protests would resonate with the rest of the world.

"We want them [world community] to show their support.  We want them to know what exactly is happening in Tibet.  We also want them to send press [media] in Tibet to know the facts," said Lamsa.

He also said it was no coincidence the protests took place just as China embarked on its leadership transition.

"This is because there is no freedom in Tibet and they are shouting for the freedom of Tibet and also for the return of his holiness, the Dalai Lama, back to his homeland," said Lamsa.

London-based Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden agreed, saying the protests were clearly aimed "at sending the next generation of China’s unelected regime a clear signal that Tibetans will continue to fight for their freedom despite China’s efforts to suppress and intimidate them."

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch cautions against drawing any conclusions about the timing of the latest protests, though HRW China Director Sophie Richardson calls the latest wave distressing.

"Until we see the Chinese government take steps toward meaningfully and seriously dealing with the kinds of grievances people in the region are articulating, we're going to see more of these," said Richardson.

Richardson also says there are no indications Chinese leadership will take any public notice of the self-immolations during the much-watched Party Congress.

"I'm skeptical there will be any public or discernable discussion about Tibet or immolations except, perhaps, as vague references in the context of broader discussions about security and the quest for a more harmonious society," she said.

But Richardson says it is likely Chinese officials are talking about Tibet behind the scenes, especially given the way Tibetans are responding to the self-immolations.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks at a news conference in Yokohama, south of Tokyo November 5, 2012.Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks at a news conference in Yokohama, south of Tokyo November 5, 2012.
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Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks at a news conference in Yokohama, south of Tokyo November 5, 2012.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks at a news conference in Yokohama, south of Tokyo November 5, 2012.
"This is because there is no freedom in Tibet and they are shouting for the freedom of Tibet and also for the return of his holiness, the Dalai Lama, back to his homeland," Lamsa said.

London-based Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden agreed, saying the protests were clearly aimed "at sending the next generation of China’s unelected regime a clear signal that Tibetans will continue to fight for their freedom despite China’s efforts to suppress and intimidate them."

On Wednesday, Tibet's government-in-exile pleaded with China to change its approach to the issue of Tibet.

Parliament Speaker Pempa Tsering says it may be the only way to stop the deadly protests. He also lamented that many Tibetans feel they have no choice but to burn themselves alive to make their cries heard.  

China has long accused Tibetan exiles of self-immolating as part of a separatist struggle, denouncing them as terrorists.

VOA's Tibetan service reported last month the offer of cash rewards in China's Gannan prefecture, called Kanlho prefecture by Tibetans. Posters promised $8,000 to anyone who provides information "on the people who plan, incite to carry out, control and lure people to commit self-immolation."

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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