News / Asia

Self-Immolations in China's Tibetan Areas Mark Shift in Tibet Movement

Since last March, at least 16 Tibetans, mostly monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese government policies.

Although initially these self-immolations were largely isolated to a Tibetan area in southwestern China, they have spread and grown in number. Between March and the end of September last year, four Tibetans set themselves on fire in protest. From October until the end of last month, another 12 followed in their footsteps.  Four occurred in January alone.

Very few of these self destructive acts have been caught on camera, but one self-immolation that has made it to the outside world was that of Palden Choetso, a nun from a Tibetan area in southwestern China’s Sichuan province.  In the video, she stands as the flames engulf her body and she later falls to the ground.

Palden Choetso set herself on fire in November and was the 11th Tibetan to resort to this extreme form of protest.

Still image of Tibetan Palden Choetso's self-immolatation.
Still image of Tibetan Palden Choetso's self-immolatation.
In the wake of her death, nuns rallied to mark her sacrifice.  And between their cries of despair came calls for Tibetan independence from China.  A candlelight vigil was held and Tibetans formed long lines to pay their respects.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet specialist at Columbia University in New York, says that as the number of self-immolations grows and spreads to more areas, Tibetan patience in China appears to be running out.

"There is more nationalism in these Tibetan areas than there was probably at any time in history.  And this has come probably as a result of bad Chinese policies that have gotten more tough and more aggressive in the last 15 years especially."

The wave of self-immolations during the past year began in March, when a 20-year-old monk Phuntsong set himself on fire to mark the third anniversary of a bloody Chinese crackdown on protests at the Kirti monastery in Aba.  

But Phuntsong's self-immolation was not the first.  The precedent for this form of protest was set in February 2009, when a monk from the same monastery set himself on fire.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet says that monk, named Tapey, self-immolated after local authorities banned monks at the monastery from observing a traditional prayer festival during the Tibetan New Year. During the past year, six of the first eight self-immolations were carried out by Kirti monks, but gradually the incidents have spread.


Exiled Tibetans in Dharmsala, India, carry portraits of Palden Choetso, a 35-year-old Tibetan Buddhist nun who set herself ablaze in 2011.  (AP)

Steve Marshall, a senior advisor for the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, has spent more than two decades researching human rights violations in Tibet.

"What we’re having as these immolations move out, we are having precedents set in more and more counties," Marshall said. "We're seeing precedents established for self-immolation and this is something Tibetans are going to remember for a long, long time."

China has tightened security in Tibetan areas where the immolations have occurred and branded those who burn themselves to death as terrorists.

Beijing also has accused Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of supporting the acts, an accusation the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile deny.

The head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, says his administration does not encourage any form of protest in China because of the consequences of such actions.

"If you protest in Tibet, more often than not you get arrested or beaten up, sometimes tortured.  Sometimes you disappear; sometimes you die."

Acts such as self-immolation, Lobsang and analysts say, show how desperate Tibetans in China have become.

In Aba and other Tibetan areas, an increase in religious regulations in recent years has put more pressure on monks and nuns, micromanaging their lives and limiting their freedom of movement, says Steve Marshall of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

"These get down to a level of detail [such as] what kind of a ringtone should you have on your phone, what TV programs can you see, can you have a picture of the Dalai Lama.  Very, very petty details about daily life for monks and nuns.  More importantly, they control things like can you go anywhere else to hear religious teaching. And if you do go somewhere else, you will have to have permission."

Columbia University's Robbie Barnett says self-immolations also mark a departure from the past, when the situation in Tibet was largely protested by exiles and the Dalai Lama.

"The immolations are marking a very important change, where what is going to happen for the future in Tibet is going to be decided by the decisions of the people inside Tibet," Barnett said. "And these immolations are a very visible, very tragic kind of decision, but they are a political statement."

It is unlikely, analysts say, that protests against Chinese policies in Tibetan areas and self-immolations will end any time soon, especially when the Beijing government's response so far has been to increase security and the repression of human rights.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More