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

Photogallery US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

update Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

update Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
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 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.
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 US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid