News / Asia

Possible Escalation in China's Crackdown Against Autonomous Tibet

Tibetan Buddhists and tourists view a huge Thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting displaying the Buddha portrait, during the Shoton Festival at Zhaibung Monastery in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, August 17, 2012.Tibetan Buddhists and tourists view a huge Thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting displaying the Buddha portrait, during the Shoton Festival at Zhaibung Monastery in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, August 17, 2012.
x
Tibetan Buddhists and tourists view a huge Thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting displaying the Buddha portrait, during the Shoton Festival at Zhaibung Monastery in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, August 17, 2012.
Tibetan Buddhists and tourists view a huge Thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting displaying the Buddha portrait, during the Shoton Festival at Zhaibung Monastery in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, August 17, 2012.
A Tibetan man who disappeared under mysterious circumstances is presumed dead, and activists are accusing Chinese security forces of orchestrating his murder.

The man, 57-year-old Dorjee Rabten, had been prepared to set himself on fire to protest Chinese rule, and had traveled to the city of Siling.

"On August 23, Chinese security personnel murdered Dorjee Rabten in Siling's 'Pachen' guest house," Gyaltsen Choedak, an exiled Tibetan with close contacts in the region, told VOA's Tibetan service.

Choedak and other sources, who asked to remain anonymous, accuse Chinese security forces of killing Rabten to prevent him from immolating himself and potentially using his death to bring attention to what he and others view as unjust Chinese rule in Tibet.

Word of Rabten's death was slow to get out. Choedak said it was not until Rabten's family was unable to reach him and went to Siling to look for him that they finally began to get some information.

"The Chinese security official called Dorjee Rabten’s elder son, Drukjham Gyal, and told him that he should come at once to pick up the body," Choedak said. "He was also warned that he could not bring any other member of his family."

But Choedak said the son never got the body or an explanation of how his father died. Instead, he was given what he was told was his father’s ashes and a warning that the family would face severe consequences if they shared anything about the death with outsiders.

VOA made numerous phone calls to the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Chinese Consulate General in New York, but was unable to reach any officials for comment.

Change in tactics?

If the accusation is true, it would represent a significant escalation in China's ongoing crackdown against Tibetans pushing for more autonomy.  

"The Chinese response on the ground seems to be a great show of force, an attempt to exert control, but in the main it has not been a violent response," said Mary Beth Markey, president of the International Campaign for Tibet.

Markey said it would be surprising for China to resort to more heavy-handed tactics now, with a once-in-a-decade change in leadership looming.

"With all the tremendous concerns that this transition go smoothly, I don't think the Chinese are looking for any extreme responses inside Tibet," she said.

Still, over the past several weeks and months, Chinese security forces have become more active, going after anyone involved in self-immolations. Earlier this month, Chinese police in Nagchu town arrested about 30 people, including the uncle, sister and brother in-law of a 43-year-old man who set himself on fire in protest.

Several monks also have been detained for taking pictures of a self-immolation.  

Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson said the crackdown has become increasingly intrusive.

"[China is] placing more officials in monasteries, arresting monks, denying people access to the bodies of loved ones who've immolated," she said. "It really is sort of adding insult to injury."

Just the threat of more immolations appears to be having an impact.

"It's now fairly easy to photograph different parts of the security forces in downtown Lhasa, for example, walking around not just heavily armed with weapons, but carrying fire extinguishers as preparations to put out these immolations should they happen spontaneously," Richardson said.

Desperation

The trend is clear. Since February of 2009, at least 57 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese policy in Tibet. The Tibetan government-in-exile says 47 of those cases have resulted in deaths.  

At first, many of those setting themselves on fire were monks. That is no longer the case.

"We're seeing lay people - mothers, fathers, grandfathers - self-immolating," Markey said. "So, if there's any trend it is a broadening of the self-immolations, both in whose doing them and where they're taking place."

Richardson, with Human Rights Watch, sees a direct connection with China's refusal to change course in its Tibet policy.

"It's very hard to see those as anything other than an expression of desperation that some Tibetans feel about the restrictions they're living under," she said.

China has denounced self-immolators as terrorists, and according to Human Rights Watch, has embarked on a campaign to prevent images of self-immolations from spreading across China or even making it to the rest of the world.

But despite such efforts, there are no other known cases in which Chinese officials stopped a self-immolation by killing the would-be protester.

Preventing immolations

In fact, before would-be self-immolator Dorjee Rabten died under mysterious circumstances, Chinese security officials already had stopped him once from setting himself on fire.

Tibetan exile Choedak said his sources told him Rabten first came to the attention of Chinese security officials August 17, when he traveled to a town in eastern Tibet.

"He sent a Chinese Muslim to buy kerosene, but this Chinese Muslim must have informed the security people," Choedak said. "Rabten was arrested on that day."

But Choedak said instead of taking Rabten into custody, Chinese security returned him to his family with a warning. But Choedak said Rabten also was put under surveillance, with Chinese security operatives following him to Siling.

Rabten told family members he was making the trip to see a doctor. But Choedak said Rabten's family now believes the visit was likely a cover, and that his goal was self-immolation.  

Choedak also said Rabten's family and many others in their community are convinced Rabten never got the chance to set himself on fire in one final act of defiance.

Global response

Groups like the International Campaign for Tibet and Human Rights Watch believe the grisly images of Tibetan protesters on fire are keeping Tibet in the spotlight.

Last week, the U.S. State Department confirmed its ambassador to China, Gary Locke, visited Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province, a predominantly Tibetan region. But the confirmation came only after a photo of the visit appeared on Twitter and in The New York Times.  

HRW's Richardson said the photo - taken by a member of Locke's staff - cannot be overlooked.

"There is a very evocative photograph of him [U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke] shaking hands with a monk," she said. "I think that's actually a more powerful statement than the standard line being repeated by State."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the visit to Aba and surrounding villages was part of a larger trip to Chongqing and Sichuan provinces in September. She also reiterated Washington's "grave concern" about the rising number of immolations, urging "better dialogue" between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

However, just the visit itself could be significant.

Locke visited two monasteries in Songpan, an area roughly 160 kilometers east of the town of Aba, which is called Ngaba by Tibetans and which has seen 26 of the self-immolations since 2009.

Still, observers say it is unlikely there will be any movement from the Chinese on Tibet until after the country's new leadership, set to be chosen next month, is firmly in place. In the meantime, they say it is likely more Tibetans will choose to set themselves on fire.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: gritty from: Australia
October 23, 2012 7:44 AM
China illegally invaded and occupied Tibet and has been oppressing its people.
China is an autocratic nation and violating human rights.
There is no democracy or freedom of speech in China.
China is an evil nation and sick man of Asia.
China should stop its aggression on neighbors

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid