Self-immolations by monks blamed on hardline rule

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2011, 12:00am


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An exiled leader of a Tibetan monastery hit by a spate of self-immolations has blamed repressive Chinese rule for the protests, but stressed he had no authority to stop them.

Kyabje Kirti Rinpoche, chief abbot of the Kirti Monastery in the predominantly ethnic Tibetan area of Aba in Sichuan, said at least 11 monks, nuns and laymen had set themselves on fire in the area since March.

Six died and the rest were taken away by the Chinese authorities and had not been heard of since.

But the respected religious figure told an online press conference hosted by Human Rights in China in New York that he was unable to call for a stop to the extreme protests.

'Because it's not us who told them to take this sort of action in the first place, I feel that we don't have the moral authority to tell them what to do and what not to do,' said the monk, who followed the Dalai Lama into exile to India in 1959.

His rhetoric echoed that of the Dalai Lama, who blamed the selfimmolations on the central government's hardline policies but similarly did not urge Tibetans to refrain from carrying out such protests.

Last week, the 25-year-old Karmapa Lama, one of the most senior religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism and a possible successor to the Dalai Lama, urged Tibetans in China to 'find other, constructive ways to work for the cause of Tibet.'

But Kirti Rinpoche, 70, said that if the central government did not ease its iron-fist rule in Tibetan communities, Tibetans would continue to be 'driven to this kind of action because they have no other option.'

Kirti Rinpoche, who quoted underground sources loyal to him, said 800 Chinese officials moved into the Kirti network of monasteries in March to implement 'patriotic re-education' programmes among monks and monitor their activities.

He said the fate of around 300 Tibetan monks reportedly arrested in April was largely unknown, but many were tortured. He said there was now a 'pervasive climate of fear' in the Aba region and 'every monk has been living in a state of terror.'

He also said the level of repression was similar across Tibet, which he said was 'under virtual martial law'.

Phone calls to Aba prefecture Public Security Bureau went unanswered yesterday and a staff member at the Kirti Monastery management committee hung up when a reporter tried to ask question.

Human Rights Watch last month documented a huge rise in security spending by the Sichuan government in the Aba region since 2002.

Per capita annual spending on public security in Aba in 2009 was five times the equivalent in non-Tibetan areas in Sichuan, it said.

Professor Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University in New York, said Beijing's strategy in Tibetan communities probably contributed towards recent unrest.

'It looks like they had a proactive management policy that had turned sour ... it was an experiment that went wrong,' he said.