On Saturday near the Kirti Buddhist monastery in Sichuan province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a Tibetan monk sat on the ground, drank and doused himself with kerosene, and set himself ablaze. He was immediately engulfed in flame and soon burned to death. A crowd of shocked but sympathetic onlookers tried to retrieve the smoldering body but police swarmed on the scene and violence ensued. The crowd was beaten back and police spirited the body away.
On Tuesday, a large group gathered in Luhuo county reportedly to witness the self-immolation of three more monks. Police dispersed the crowd with gunshots, killing two and wounding perhaps dozens more. On Wednesday, in the county seat of Seda, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, police also opened lethal fire on protesters.
This monk who died Saturday was the fourth Tibetan to meet death by self-immolation this month. At least 16 men and women, mostly monks and nuns, have made this act of self-sacrifice in the last year. They are protesting the continued oppression of the Tibetan people and the suppression of their religion by the communist government in Beijing. Unfortunately, and due in part to periodic news blackouts enforced by the PRC, their sacrifice has not galvanized world opinion. In fact, it has hardly been noticed.
These protests are controversial in Buddhist circles, since any form of suicide is widely seen as contrary to the teachings of the religion. The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, has neither condemned nor supported the acts but has said he understands the hopeless frustration many Tibetans feel over Beijing’s “ruthless and illogical” policies. According to Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, most of those who have self-immolated have made statements prior to the act calling for “restoration of freedom in Tibet and return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
The government in Beijing has used such statements to blame what it calls these “acts of terrorism” on incitement from external forces. Communist officials accused the Dalai Lama of supporting a movement bent on violent separatism from the PRC. The government has reacted to the recent spate of self-immolations by increasing the police presence in Tibetan-majority areas, arresting known or suspected activists, and cutting telephone and other means of communications. When the U.S. State Department expressed “serious concerns” about the ongoing series of self-immolations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry objected to “such remarks and practices making use of Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, which could disrupt Chinese social stability and national unity.”
The over half-century struggle for Tibetan freedom is continuing whether the whole world is watching or not. As the communist government in Beijing struggles with issues of reform and modernization, it has retained and even intensified its hard-line policies against the Tibetan people. Given China’s growing importance as an economic power and a general sense of fatigue in the rest of the word for meaningful action in defense of human rights, the people in Tibet can expect little concrete support in their quest for political freedom and religious liberty. But these fiery demonstrations of self-sacrifice will continue to shock the global conscience with the hope that some day their people will be free.
There is a lot of talk about a new, more open, enlightened leadership in Beijing. This “new China” is a myth.
The Washington Times