100th self-immolation in Tibet protest

Former Tibetan monk Lobsang Namgyal,who set himself on fire to protest Chinese rule in Tibet. photograph: new york times

Former Tibetan monk Lobsang Namgyal,who set himself on fire to protest Chinese rule in Tibet. photograph: new york times


A former Buddhist monk in Aba province has set himself on fire to become the 100th Tibetan to self-immolate in China since 2009 to protest against Chinese rule in the remote Himalayan region.

Lobsang Namgyal (37), a former monk from Kirti Monastery, died on February 3rd after setting himself on fire in front of the Dzoge People’s Armed Police building in Aba prefecture in Sichuan province in southwestern China.

Self-immolation is the principal form of protest among ethnic Tibetans to express their anger at tighter political control on the Tibetan plateau and to call for the return of their spiritual leader Dalai Lama.

Most of the immolations have taken place outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, in Sichuan, which has a sizeable Tibetan population, focused on two prefectures – Aba, which the Tibetans call Ngawa, and Ganzi, or Kardze in Tibetan. About one million Tibetans live in these areas.

The first monk to self-immolate was called Tapey, and he also came from Kirti monastery. He set himself on fire on February 27th, 2009.

In 2011 there were 12 confirmed self-immolations, and 83 during 2012, of which 28 were in November alone.

“This staggering figure of 100 individual self-immolation protests must bring the world to its senses,” said Tenzin Jigme of the International Tibet Network, an umbrella organisation for 185 Tibet advocacy groups.

“This milestone demands widespread condemnation of China’s failed policies and of its brutal crackdown in Tibet.”

Diplomatic initiative

“We urgently call on world governments to issue a joint statement of concern on this tragic occasion and to collectively formulate a diplomatic initiative that will directly address China’s leaders over the crisis they have created in Tibet,” Tenzin Jigme said.

The European Union, the US and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed concern at the self-immolations, but most governments have steered clear of backing calls for Tibetan independence for fear of antagonising Beijing.

However, they do encourage dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who says he does not support the immolations. His line is he wants more autonomy for Tibet, but he does not support calls for Tibetan independence.

“While there have been many ‘expressions of concern’ through back channels or by junior ministers and under secretaries, global leaders have chosen not to antagonise China by speaking up for the oppressed people of Tibet,” said Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden. “It is long past time for that to change: do another 100 have to set themselves alight before the international community holds China to account?”

Outside China

Some Tibetans outside China also have burned themselves, most recently in Kathmandu in Nepal this week.

The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetan groups for inciting the self-immolations, and authorities in Tibetan regions recently announced that anyone inciting self-immolation would be charged with murder.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government detained scores of people as part of a widening crackdown on the protests and is running a propaganda campaign to discourage the immolations.

Two ethnic Tibetans have been jailed for “goading” people to set themselves on fire.

Tibetans accuse Beijing of orchestrating a campaign of religious oppression and cultural genocide by encouraging ethnic Han Chinese to move into Tibetan areas.

For its part, Beijing says it has invested billions to modernise Tibet and improve standards of living.