Tibetan protests follow surge in self-immolations


At least 47 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011, writes CLIFFORD COONANin Beijing

HUNDREDS OF ethnic Tibetans have demonstrated in western China to protest police brutality, following a surge in the number of self-immolations within the Tibetan community to protest against Chinese rule.

Five Tibetans set themselves on fire in China in the past week to protest at the growing influence of Han China in the Tibetan plateau and to seek the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for encouraging the monks and nuns in their actions, and has deployed thousands of troops to western China and Tibet itself to try and stop the wave of protest. He denies he is behind the surge in self-immolations.

The London-based Free Tibet group said hundreds of Tibetans protested outside the police headquarters in the Tongren county of Qinghai province.

The group said the protests began after police dragged four ethnic Tibetans from a car, severely beat them and threatened them with guns.

Two Tibetans set themselves on fire on Monday in Aba county in Sichuan province, which triggered clashes between Tibetans and police that ended up with a Tibetan being beaten to death, advocacy groups say, quoting sources in the remote Himalayan region.

Lungtok, a monk from the restive Kirti monastery in Ngaba, and another Tibetan, believed to be a layperson and identified as Tashi, torched themselves around 6pm local time, a Tibetan source in the area told Radio Free Asia.

“A large contingent of police and armed PSB [Public Security Bureau] personnel arrived at the site of the self-immolation and imposed stern restrictions in the area,” the source said.

“The local Tibetans gathered in the area clashed with police and the situation became very tense. One Tibetan died from being beaten by the police,” the source said.

There were reports of a third immolation in Aba, but it could not be confirmed. There were no immediate details of the condition of the two self-immolators.

Riot police patrol the streets near Kirti monastery carrying fire extinguishers, so frequent have the self-immolations become in the town over the past year.

Once the latest incidents are included, at least 47 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 to protest Chinese rule over Tibet, according to rights groups.

Most of the immolations have taken place outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, in Sichuan province, 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.

“In the last week alone, we have seen numerous cases of self-immolations and other protests in Tibet. Tensions are high as Tibetans are not prepared to sit back and allow Chinese state oppression to continue unchallenged,” said Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden.

China has ruled Tibet since 1950, when communist troops marched in and announced its “peaceful liberation” from feudal rule by the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. Beijing insists Chinese rule has brought economic development, and denies that it is trying to contain Tibetans’ ability to practice their religion.

Demonstrations calling for greater independence, including an outbreak of rioting in March 2008 which focused on the Tibetan city of Lhasa but spread to many areas where Tibetans live in China, have been brutally suppressed.

The Chinese government is expected to go through a difficult leadership transition in the autumn, and it usually cracks down on ethnic unrest in the run-up to these kind of events. At the same time, it is wary about inflaming tensions at a time of broader sensitivity.