Tibetans are sending a clear message to their Chinese occupiers; laying down their lives to demand an end to Chinese rule and gathering to protest in numbers not seen since the Tibetan uprising of 2008.
On 7th November there were 5 self-immolations on one day in Tibet, including one just 15 years old, and they have become almost daily, with 28 in November alone. Just like under Hu Jintao’s leadership, China still has no answer to the crisis, which greets Xi Jinping as his major challenge as China’s new President.
There have been at least 95 self-immolations in Tibet since 2009, most resulting in death. There have also been self-immolations of Tibetans living in exile, and that of a British-born monk in France in November.
In November alone there were 28 self-immolations, most in separate incidents across Tibet and there have been more in December, showing that far from fading away, this trend us growing. Will Xi Jinping’s ascension to the Presidency of the Chinese government stop the self-immolations? The answer is a resounding no, but one thing is for sure; Tibetans are making the continuing occupation and oppression of their country the issue which will characterise Xi’s leadership and legacy. Will he maintain the policies which have failed to secure Chinese control over Tibet for over 60 years or will he finally do what any truly developed nation would do and urgently and properly address the grievances of the Tibetan people?
The latest incidents have seen 41-year-old writer Gudrup set himself on fire in Nangchu on 3rd October, then 27-year-old Sangye Gyatso and Tamdin Dorjee; grandfather of a prominent reincarnate lama, both in Tsoe in Kanlho on 5th and 13th October respectively. 27-year-old Lhamo Kyab of Sangchu self-immolated on 20th October and 60-something Dhondup on 22nd October. 57-year-old farmer Dorjee Rinchen set himself on fire in the main street of Labrang on 23rd October. 20-year-old Tseop and 25-year-old Tenzin set themselves alight in Driru, Kham on 25th October, then 24-year-old Lhamo Tseten and 21-year-old Tsephag Kyab self-immolated in seperate incidents in Sangchu, both on 26th October.
Then on 4th November, 25-year-old farmer and thangka painter Dorjee Lhundrup self-immolated in Rebkong. Following that came a series of five self-immplations on one day, spread across three regions and involving a cross-section of Tibetans. At 3pm, three young monks; 15-year-old Dorje, the youngest ever to self-immolate, and 16-year-olds Samdrub and Dorje Kyab set fire to themselves in front of a police station in Ngaba, calling for a free Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama; Dorje died at the scene while Samdrub and Dorje Kyab were taken to a state hospital. Then at 6pm, 23-year-old mother Tamdrin Tso self-immolated in the market in Rebkong while calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and died at the scene. Then at 8pm in Driru in the ‘Tibetan Autonomous Region’, the fifth self-immolation of the day occured when an unnamed individual set themselves on fire, and an 18-year-old nomad named Kalsang Jinpa self-immolated in Rebkong on 8th November; the day of China’s leadership change. This self-immolation led to huge protests in Rebkong; the largest since 2008.
17-year-old nun Sangay Dolma left this photo with a pro-independence message written on her hand when she self-immolated on 25th November, Sangay Tashi set himself on fire on 27th November
19-year-old Gonpo Tsering self-immolated in Kanhlo on 10th November, with news being stalled due to an apparent communications blackout imposed by the Chinese state, but Tibetans had managed to get information through the following day. On 12th November when 24-year-old Nyingkar Tashi and 20-year-old Nyingchag Bum set themselves on fire in seperate incidents in the increasingly restive Rebkong. Then there were two more self-immolations after Xi Jinping was confirmed as China’s new leader; 18-year-old Kharbum Gyal and 23-year-old Tangzin Dolma, both in Rebkong. 27-year-old mother-of-two Chagmo Kyi and 24-year-old nomad Sangdag Tsering died after self-immolating in seperate incidents in Rebkong on 17th November and 25-year-old Wangchen Norbu self-immolated in Amdo on 19th November, calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, the release of the Panchen Lama and freedom for Tibet.
34-year-old Tsering Dhondup died after self-immolating in Amchok on 20th November, 18-year-old Lubum Gyal in Rebkong on 22nd November while 23-year-old nomad Tamding Kyab and 29-year-old Tamding Dorjee set themselves on fire in seperate incidents on 23rd November. 17-year-old nun Sangay Dolma died after self-immolating on 25th November, leaving a strongly worded political poem calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence, outlining Tibet’s future; ““Look up, Tibetans, look at the snow mountains. The snowland’s era has begun. And Tibet is free and independent”. Three people self-immolated on 26th November; 20-year-old student Wangyal in Sertha, 18-year-old Kunchok Tsering at a mining site in Labrang, and 24-year-old father-of-three Gonpo Tsering in Kanhlo. Then 24-year old nomad Kalsang Kyab self-immolated in Ngaba and 18-year-old student Sangay Tashi set himself on fire in Sangchu, Eastern Tibet at midnight on 27th November, calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and release of political prisoners as he burned. On November 28th, 21-year-old Wangdhen Khar burned himself to death in Kanhlo, prompting a swiftly organised prayer service displaying images of the Dalai Lama, which around 500 attended. Then on 29th November, 31-year-old Tsering Tashi died after self-immolating near a Chinese government office in Luchu and 29-year-old Kunchok Kyab’s became the 90th confirmed self-immolation in Tibet since 2009 when he set himself on fire in Ngaba on 30th November, and the first self-immolation in December came on 2nd, when a man named Sungdue Kyab set himself on fire near the monastery in Bora town before 29-year-old Lobsang Gendun set himself on fire in Golog Pema Dzong on 3rd December. 24-year old monk Kunchok Phelgye and 23-year-old Pema Dorjee both self-immolated in separate incidents on 8th December, with Pema Dorjee calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, independence for Tibet, unity among Tibetans and for Tibet to be ruled by Tibetans. 17-year-old schoolgirl Bhenchen Kyi died after self-immolating in Rebkong on 9th December; she had said she did not want her body to fall into the hands of the Chinese authorities, and despite China’s threats that they will charge those assisting self-immolators with murder, 2,000 Tibetans defied these threats to take her body back from the authorities to perform a proper funeral.
Tamdrin Tso and Gonpo Tsering, who self-immolated on 7th and 10th November
The self-immolators shouted various slogans as they set themselves alight, including for freedom for Tibet, the return of the Dalai Lama, the release of the Pancen Lama and the increasingly repeated messages of unity among Tibetans and independence for Tibet. All are thought to have died except Tenzin, who’s health and whereabouts are unknown. These incidents were again seen across the world in shocking photos as Tibetans risk brutal responses to share information about these ongoing incidents. Showing the clear connection between China’s failed policies and the self-immolations, in his last conversation, a phone call to a friend, Lhamo Kyab asked about the upcoming Chinese leadership change, which he has seen across state media, then said “these Chinese are not letting us live in peace. It’s better to die.”.
As in the majority of the other cases of self-immolation since that of Phuntsog Juratsang in March 2011, the Chinese authorities quickly attempted to smother the incidents, trying to keep the bodies out of the hands of the Tibetan community to prevent large gatherings for funerals and locking down the area with troops. In other cases, the authorities have ransacked monasteries and arrested many in connection with the self-immolations and on suspicion of sharing information about these incidents with the outside world. Since China’s leadership change, the CCP’s reaction has been the same, with arrests, sentencing in closed trials, beatings and torture of Tibetans close to those who have self-immolated. The state has issued warnings stating that those who aid self-immolators and their families will be punished and denied any state benefits.
SFT International Executive Director Tendor talks about the crisis in Tibet on Al-Jazeera
There are common slogans being recited by those who are self-immolating, and they are being echoed throughout Tibet by protesters, students, monks and nuns, musicians, writers and cultural figures, and through these slogans and the large numbers turning out to demand back the bodies of those who die and who honour them at their funerals, we are seeing that a large cross-section of Tibetan society are not only united behind these ideals, but are prepared to risk their own freedom by expressing this. Tibetans are increasingly expressing their Tibetaness; that they are not Chinese, that they do not accept the Chinese government’s policies and as China struggles to control the situation, it is becoming increasingly clear that the only way the situation can fully be solved is when China’s occupation of Tibet comes to an end. Though the act of self-immolation is extreme, it demonstrates the depth of determination felt by these Tibetans, many in their teens and early twenties with their lives ahead of them and coming from a wide cross-section of society. These demands are more important to them than their own lives, and the impact is that those demands are being repeated, not just by Tibetans in Tibet but across the world. And China has no answer.
The Chinese state’s reaction to the self-immolations continues to expose the true face of the regime. They go into lockdown; they flood Tibetan streets with troops, they crack down on every aspect of Tibetan life, put monasteries under seige, kill protesters staging peaceful gatherings in support of self-immolators by firing into crowds and beating an detaining unknown numbers on a daily basis. Knowing that their reaction is unjustified, they continue to ban tourists and foreign journalists from Tibet in an attempt to hide what is happening. But even in that they are failing; brave Tibetans like Yonten Gyatso are risking their own health, lives and freedom to get news, eyewitness accounts, videos and pictures like these out of Tibet.
Student protests in Chabcha, 25th November
Meanwhile, Tibetans are gathering in huge numbers to protest, notably in Rebkong, the site of two self-immolations in the past few weeks. There, 6,000 took to the streets on 8th November, and students were at the head of what are thought to be the largest protests since the Tibetan uprising of 2008. Around 4,000-5,000 students took to the streets to demand language rights and the return of the Dalai Lama. Then on 25th November, Chinese security forces attacked peaceful student protesters when over 1,000 stood up to demand rights and freedos in Chabcha, leaving many with serious injuries. The protest was thought to be in response to the Chinese state handing out a document laying down how it would arrest those supporting those who have self-immolated.
Student protests have been taking place sporadically in Tibet since 2009, with the demands often concerning education rights as the Chinese state forces Tibetan students to switch to Chinese as the language of instruction aged 13, meaning they lose out on places in higher education institutions as they must compete against native Chinese speakers.
On 2nd November, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay made a strong statement on the situation in Tibet, saying “more needs to be done to protect human rights and prevent violations” and that “social stability in Tibet will never be achieved through heavy security measures and suppression of human rights.” The Chinese government flatly rejected the statement, but failed to offer any reason why, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei merely stating “we are dissatisfied with and strongly opposed to the high commissioner’s statement” before adding “the Dalai clique has seriously beautified the illegal self-immolations in Tibetan areas, which are extreme behaviour in violation of religious mores”. He did not attempt to address Navi Pillay’s main point about human rights violations in Tibet; a common avoidance tactic by the Chinese Communist Party which to anybody living in a free state will seem like a clear indication that China is aware that the accusation that it is responsible for such abuses is correct.
In response to the latest month of self-immolations, the Chinese state has begun to offer one of it’s other favourite tactics; bribery. Intimidating Tibetans hasn’t worked, so Chinese state media, labeling those who support Tibetans who self-immolate as ‘the black hands’, are offering cash rewards for those who give information to the authorities, with a government statement reading “anyone who reports and informs the legal authorities on the people who plan, incite to carry out, control and lure people to commit self-immolation will be awarded 50,000 yuan”.
China’s power and money have been effective in winning the compliance of other nations over the years, but in over 60 years neither of those things have dented the Tibetan people’s resistance. Tibet has always been a thorn in the side of Chinese leaders, and with Xi Jinping about to take his next step to taking over from Chinese President Hu Jintao on 8th November, China’s self-proclaimed ‘core interest’ of Tibet is looking more and more like not just a troublesome issue but possibly the one which breaks the camel’s back. Xi faces his toughest challenge in the determination of the Tibetan people; a force which despite their military muscle flexing, all of his predecessors have failed to defeat.
Tibetans clash with Chinese police over the self-immolation of Dorjee Rinchen, and China floods the area with troops.
TIBET NEEDS YOU NOW!
SIGN AND SHARE THE PETITIONS
The Stand Up for Tibet petition now has over 50,000 signatories, calling for global action for Tibet, including celebrities, peace prize winners and politicians. Sign and share the petition and help us increase the pressure further.
Avaaz’s ‘Tibet’s cry for help’ petition has reached 685,000 signatories.
WRITE TO YOUR MP
Go to writetothem.com and tap in your postcode to send an email to your MP. Tell them about the recent self-immolations and recommend that the Foreign Office takes multi-lateral action such as forums and frameworks with other governments as their next step to ensure the grievances of the Tibetan people are properly addressed.
CALL THE EMBASSY IN BEIJING
Call Britain’s Ambassador in Beijing Sebastian Wood on (+86) (10) 5192 4000 in the morning (afternoon-evening Beijing time) and ask him to raise the issue of Tibet with Chinese counterparts, reminding him of the self-immolations and brutal crackdowns happening today in Tibet.
WRITE TO THE CHINESE EMBASSY
Make it clear to the Embassy that British citizens do not accept China’s brutal crackdowns in Tibet that China must allow foreign journalists to report the facts on the ground as any developed nation would, and that Xi Jinping’s administration must break from China’s failed Tibet policies and seriously address Tibetans’ grievances.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming
49-51 Portland Place London W1B 1JL
020 7299 4049
JAM CHINA’S SELF-IMMOLATION INFORMANT LINE
The Chinese state has launched a line for informants in Tibet to ring to give information about those who self-immolate, for which the state is offering bribes. Some have managed to get through on a series of advertised numbers, saying to officers who pick up ‘Xizang Duli’ (‘independence for Tibet’ in Chinese) 00 86 9416696271, 00 86 941 6696272, 00 86 15293669011, 00 86 15283669012.
COME TO THE SOLIDARITY VIGIL
There are solidarity vigils at the Chinese Embassy every Wednesday evening from 6.30-8pm, plus additional events. Visit our Facebook page for more events as they come up.
MAKE A VIDEO URGING POLITICIANS TO ACT
All around the world, Tibetans and activists are making simple one minute video statements to their leaders, urging them to join multilateral forums to find solutions to the crisis in Tibet. Making a personal address like this can help bring the issue home to politicians; please make your own, upload it to YouTube and send the link to Tendolkar at SFT HQ for inclusion on the video wall which will be publicised on Human Rights Day, December 10th.
JOIN SFT UK’S RANGZEN CIRCLE
SFT UK is run mainly by volunteers using our own resources. We need to push the movement for Tibetan independence forward, especially at this critical time, so we need your help. Join the resistance by making a monthly donation of £3 or more, you really are helping this movement become sustainable long term in the UK.
VOA Tibet video of student protests, 8th November
Tibetans’ demands and their determination to be free from Chinese rule must be shared and seen. These demands must be taken to Chinese leaders in their Embassies and as they visit other countries. These demands must be respected by world governments as we pressure them to form multi-lateral forums to find solutions to the crisis in Tibet. And these demands must be made a reality; only then will Tibet be free.
Ngawang Norphel and Tenzin Kedhup self-immolate on 20th June, Chinese troops flood Tibetan areas; now with fire extinguishers are standard kit