Self-immolation cases spread beyond monks, nuns in Tibet over Chinese repression

9 Aug 2012

Beijing, China -- The cases of self-immolation have spread beyond monks and nuns, with ordinary Tibetans now setting themselves on fire in protest over China's repressive policies on Tibet.

On Wednesday, two more young Tibetans, a mother and a monk, set themselves on fire in protest against the continued exile of the Dalai Lama and the lack of freedom in Tibet, raising the number of Tibetan self-immolations to 45, most of them having taken place since March 2011.
The immolations started with Buddhist monks and nuns, who see themselves in an increasingly desperate struggle for the ancient land and its people, and who say that their Tibetan identity and faith is being stamped out by aggressive Chinese policies and actions.

Yet, 13 of the self-immolations in Tibet this year suggest that ordinary Tibetans are starting to torch themselves, and that the cases appear to be spreading geographically and are less confined to a few dissident monasteries.
"The self-immolations have now jumped a number of fences. There are more of them and they are more diverse," Christian Science Monitor quoted Steven Marshall, a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, who had extensive experience in Tibet in the 1980s and 1990s, as saying.

"We are seeing immolations in the lay community, not only among monks and nuns where it started. It is also spreading into a greater area, not just the [Tibet Autonomous Region], but Qinghai and Gansu [provinces abutting the Tibet Autonomous Region]."

While the Dalai Lama has consistently opposed self-immolations as a violation of the sacredness of life, Tibetans are continuing to do it in an act seen as indicative of their depth of desperation."They are calling for Dalai Lama's return because they are in this very serious moment, very serious, in which the Tibetan nation, identity, culture, the spiritual tradition, are all being closed down by Chinese aggression," Kate Saunders, the spokeswoman for International Campaign for Tibet in London, said.

In Tibetan monasteries, China continues to oversee aspects of religious instruction, control the appointment of teachers, give patriotic loyalty tests-actions that many Tibetans protest as serious infringements by Beijing on the faith.
Photos of the Dalai Lama in Tibet are forbidden.

"All monasteries must display pictures of Mao Zedong and Chinese President Hu Jintao and fly the Chinese flag. In numerous monasteries, forced patriotic reeducation campaigns are under way," states Lobsang Sangay, who now heads a newly democratic government in exile in Dharamsala, India, in a statement this week.

Some Tibetan experts say the past year of self-immolations represent a "tipping point" in the deepening clashes between locals and Chinese authorities.
The region, meanwhile, is shut off from most foreign and Western journalists, NGOs, and human rights groups.