News / Asia

Tibetan Activists Adopt Self-Immolation As Political Tool

A Tibetan monk holds a flag as he takes part in a day-long hunger strike in New Delhi, October 19, 2011.
A Tibetan monk holds a flag as he takes part in a day-long hunger strike in New Delhi, October 19, 2011.

In recent months several Tibetan monks and nuns have set themselves on fire to protest China's rule in Tibet.  The attempted suicides have drawn an angry response from Beijing officials who claim the protests are linked to acts of terrorism and sponsored by the Dalai Lama. The harrowing incidents mark an escalation in tactics opposing Beijing’s rule.

Since May, nine Tibetans have tried to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire.  The most recent was the first woman, a Buddhist nun.  Five monks have died from their wounds.  All of those who have attempted political suicide have been under 24 years old.

As in the other suicide attempts, the Buddhist nun named Tenzin Wangmo shouted out protest slogans calling for the end of China's rule, for religious freedom and for the exiled Dalai Lama to be allowed to return to Tibet.

Most suicides have taken place in the small town Aba, in Sichuan Province which neighbors Tibet and has large Tibetan communities.

Chinese governement reacts

The Chinese government says the acts, which have sparked other protests around the region, go against the beliefs and scriptures of Buddhism.

But Columbia University Tibetan scholar at Robert Barnett disagrees.

"There are records, a very few, but references to self-immolation as a religious practice in the mythical past, where people did it to show devotion to Buddha.  So we can not say completely that this is not a Buddhist practice, it has happened in the ancient past," he said.

But unlike ancient history, all of the recent self-immolations have been viewed as political statements.  Tibetan exile groups have held candlelight vigils to remember those they call martyrs and urged others to not let their actions be forgotten.

Unprecedented motivations

Barnett says the taking of one's life by self-immolation as a political demonstration is unprecedented in the Tibetan protest community.

"We have to be clear.  This form of protest by burning oneself to death or setting oneself on fire is really completely new in modern Tibet," said Barnett. "We do not really have any precedent for this...  As a political practice this is completely new."

The self-immolations started after the Chinese authorities in Beijing ordered a curb on religious freedom by forcing monks into patriotic education sessions.  Officials made monks renounce their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and study communism.

The monks protested vocally in their monasteries so the Chinese authorities took action.

They placed small police stations inside some monasteries and cut off water and electricity supplies at others.

Once the self-immolations began, authorities responded by sending in more riot police to Aba to prevent copycat suicide attacks.  Some of the police are armed with fire extinguishers.

Barnett says the protesters actions reinforce an image of oppression from Chinese authorities.

"It is very important because it indicates to all Tibetans, that they stand out to be a sign of extreme desperation," he said.  "It is still a choice of last resort.  In other words, Tibetans do not see this as strategic, as a way of getting attention. They see it as a way indicating that the pressure on these monks is so great that they do not feel they have any other choice."

For Tibetan exile groups, there is a consensus that the Chinese government is to blame for the deaths.  

"Young Tibetans are courageously giving their own lives to draw international attention to one of the greatest and longest standing human rights crisis in Tibet," said Stephanie Bridgen, director of London-based Free Tibet organization.

Western criticism

Western governments have released statements that generally concur with the view that Chinese tactics are contributing to the situation.  Last week, the U.S. State Department called on Beijing to resolve the underlying grievances of China’s Tibetan population.

Beijing has strongly disputed that view and continues to describe the self-immolations as the end result of terrorism carried out by the Dalai Lama and Tibet freedom movements.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing's primary concern is to keep what she describes as normal social order in Sichuan and Tibet.  She calls the self-immolations “splittist activities” which is how the Beijing government describes Tibetan independence moves.  She also called it terrorism in disguise.

Beijing invokes terrorism

Colombia University's Barnett says this is Beijing's standard response.

"Whenever there is a protest in Tibet, that the Chinese find is of an unacceptable kind, this is a standard response.  Yet they have not yet told of any evidence of what we might consider terrorism," he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry is also not saying if it has contacted Indian authorities to pursue terrorism charges against Tibetan exile groups based in the country.

China has said that other governments commenting on the matter should refrain from doing so. Beijing officials responded to U.S. calls for respecting the rights of Tibetan and other Chinese citizens by saying that Washington should not meddle in China's internal affairs.

You May Like

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid