Sichuan officials condemn wave of self-immolations
Senior Sichuan officials say a recent wave of self-immolations in Tibetan-populated parts of the province was instigated by separatist forces headed by the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, and have labelled some monks who burned themselves as criminals and social outcasts.
More than two dozen monks, nuns, former monks and ethnic Tibetan laymen have set themselves on fire in Tibetan-inhabited parts of the mainland since 2009, with most cases occurring in Sichuan's Aba and Ganzi prefectures.
The most recent immolations in Aba occurred just days ago. A 32-year-old mother of four set herself ablaze and died in Aba on Saturday and an 18-year-old man died after self-immolating on Monday. The area is now in virtual lockdown, with journalists banned from getting in.
The head of Aba's county government, ethnic Tibetan Wu Zegang, said in Beijing yesterday there were several common characteristics among those who had set themselves on fire.
Firstly, they shouted slogans demanding Tibetan independence before they self-immolated, Wu said. Secondly, they sent their photos to overseas Tibetan separatist groups before they self-immolated, so that in many incidents overseas separatist groups could put photos of the incident online immediately alongside photos of the Tibetan who self-immolated, 'making up stories recklessly'. Thirdly, some overseas groups even offered compensation to encourage self-immolations.
Wu said that showed the self-immolations were a premeditated political strategy and that making heroes of Tibetans who set fire to themselves was tempting, encouraging and supporting acts of self-immolation.
'These expose that the Dalai clique and Tibetan separatist forces are behind and support the self-immolations, inciting more monks and nuns to follow suit ... pushing Tibetan Buddhism towards religious extremism,' Wu said. He said former monks who self-immolated also shared some common characteristics: they all had criminal records or very bad social standing, felt desperate and used self-immolation to kill themselves, thinking they could enter the next life this way.
'We think that it's exactly because of such temptation and lies from the Dalai clique separatist force that we see a copycat effect and a repeated pattern of self-immolations.'
At the same press conference, former Ganzi county chief Li Changping also condemned the Dalai Lama and self-immolations. 'The Dalai clique has [in the past year] strengthened its separatist and sabotage activities in Tibetan regions, but although there are a very small number of monasteries and monks responding ... they cannot represent the majority of the Tibetan regions,' he said.
Jiang Zhaoyong , a commentator on Tibetan issues, called for caution when dealing with self-immolations. 'I think some of them are tempted by separatist forces, but certainly not all of them are like that,' he said. 'I believe some of them involve religious demands. The government should respect the religion and faith of the ethnic group.'
Some analysts have said the self-immolations are the result of tighter control of Tibetan regions since rioting in Lhasa in March 2008.
Additional reporting by Choi Chi-yuk and Teddy Ng