Six Tibetans self-immolate in 48 hours

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2012, 9:00pm

Six Tibetans set themselves on fire in China in an escalating wave of protests as the country’s leaders gathered for a once-a-decade power transition, exile leaders said on Thursday.

A man set himself ablaze on Thursday in the Tibetan-inhabited Huangnan prefecture in Qinghai province where a 23-year-old woman self-immolated and died on Wednesday, the India-based exile government announced.

A trio of teenaged monks also set themselves alight on Wednesday in Aba County in Sichuan province, the focus of previous protests, while another burning was confirmed in the Tibetan Automonous Region on the same day.

Self-immolations to protest Chinese rule in Tibet have occurred regularly since March last year, but Wednesday marked the first time such a large number have happened on the same day. Two were reported dead.

“The self-immolations in Tibet are an appeal to the international community, to the Chinese government and to the Chinese people as human beings to hear their cry for help,” said Dicki Chhoyang, information secretary for the government.

A total of 69 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since February 2009, of which 54 have died, according to the government in exile, which has been based in India since Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959.

In Beijing on Thursday, China’s Communist Party opened a week-long congress which is expected to end with the transitioning of power to Vice-President Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade.

China blames what it calls the “Dalai clique” for fomenting unrest in Tibet and orchestrating the self-immolations.

Stephanie Brigden, director of the Free Tibet campaign group, said that the spate of protests were “aimed at sending the next generation of China’s unelected regime a clear signal that Tibetans will continue to fight for their freedom”.

The India-based exile group Students For a Free Tibet lamented the latest incidents in a statement but said “decades of intense suffering in Tibet have led many Tibetans to feel compelled to engage in extreme acts of protest”.

The group said that the man who set himself alight on Thursday afternoon at 4:20 local time (0820 GMT) was called Jinpa and he had died of his injuries, however the government in exile was unable to confirm this.

It is difficult for the media to independently verify the reports of self-immolations because independent journalists are prevented from travelling to Tibet and sensitive Tibetan areas.

The self-immolations have divided exiled Tibetans with some seeing them as legitimate acts of protest while others are concerned by what they view as behaviour contravening Buddhist beliefs in the sanctity of life.

Many gathered for a candle-lit vigil in Dharamshala, home to about 10,000 exiled Tibetans, on Thursday in front of a large poster bearing the faces of those who have self-immolated.

The Tibetan government in exile, which is not recognised by any foreign state, is looking for cause for optimism from the new Chinese leadership under Xi, the 59-year-old son of a Communist revolutionary.

Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, met and came to know the Dalai Lama in Beijing in the early 1950s, before the Tibetan spiritual leader fled after a failed uprising.

He later became a liberal vice-premier known to be sympathetic towards minorities, and Tibetan exiles and analysts raise the possibility that such thinking may have passed down a generation.

Xi junior’s true political leanings are largely unknown, though he has expressed the government’s routine disdain for the Dalai Lama and also vowed to “smash” any attempt to destroy stability in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama and the government in exile call for greater autonomy for Tibet inside China, but Beijing views these demands as a separatist campaign liable to spark further demands for self-governance in other restive regions.

“We are ready at any time, any location to resume dialogue,” Chhoyang said.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged China to address Tibetans’ grievances saying she recognised their “intense sense of frustration and despair which has led them to resort to such extreme means”.

China rebuffed the criticism and expressed “strong dissatisfaction”.