Local government threatens severe punishments for families of Tibetan self-immolators
A county in Sichuan province has issued guidelines aimed at punishing the direct family members of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule in their homeland.
The guidelines issued by the Ruoergai county government are barring parents, partners, children and siblings of Tibetan self-immolators from travelling, running a new business, and obtaining a loan and social security benefits. The county is also known by its Tibetan name Dzorge.
Temporary guidelines were shared by Tsering Woeser, a prominent Tibetan rights activist based in Beijing, on her blog earlier this week. Radio Free Asia also said it had obtained the document from a Ruoergai resident who recently emigrated.
The county’s annual work report mentions such guidelines being imposed without providing details. Calls to the county government on Friday went unanswered.
A staffer at a hotel in the county, who declined to be identified, said the guidelines existed.
Dated April last year, it lays down a series of punishments, should a self-immolation occur in the county. Over the last two years, nine of the more than 120 self-immolations in protest of Chinese rule occurred in the county, Woeser wrote in her blog.
The guidelines bar family members from travelling abroad or to the Tibetan Autonomous Region for three years. They also bar families from applying for employment with the government or the military, and applications for loans or business licences in the three years following the incident would be automatically rejected.
Plots of collective farmland used by the self-immolator would be returned to the government, the guidelines read.
Villages or districts where the immolation occurred would also face punishment. The respective administrative division have to pay a security deposit of between 10,000 yuan (HK$12,700) and 500,000 yuan to the county government, which would only be returned if no further self-immolation occurs.
There would also be a temporary stop to investment projects in the village or district.
Monasteries would be barred from holding religious activities with outsiders for an unspecified period of time and would see their finances audited, the guidelines read.
Tipsters could receive up to 500,000 yuan for information that leads to the capture of self-immolators, according to the guidelines. The average annual income in Ruoergai stood at 7,430 yuan last year.
Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Programme at Columbia University, said Chinese authorities have toughened their stance on self-immolations.
Last year, the government began to speak of conspiracies organised by Tibetans in exile and proposing to impose collective punishment on communities if self-immolations occurred, he said.
“This is a new approach to handling protest in post-Mao China, and it’s very rare to see it spelled out so clearly,” said Barnett.
While the number of immolations has declined in recent months, Tibetans have responded with occasional flash protests and long-term distancing from the state, he said. The Chinese authorities “might face fewer immolations among Tibetans, but trust between them and Tibetan communities is likely to diminish sharply,” he said, pointing to collective punishment.
On Thursday, Radio Free Asia reported a self-immolation in Qinghai province on February 5. A 29-year old man died from the injuries incurred in the fire in Zeku county in the Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In 2012, the prefecture imposed similar sanctions on villages where self-immolations occurred, according to a transcript seen by the Post. It also instructed police to investigate if funds were collected in support of families of self-immolators.
Another Tibetan man set himself on fire near the Kirti Monastery in Sichuan province on Thursday, Voice of America reported. It is unclear whether he survived.