Self-immolation shadow over China’s two sessions

Three Tibetans, a 32-yr-old widowed mother of four and two teenagers, died of self-immolation in separate incidents as China convened its annual sessions of National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
On 5 March 2012, the day the fifth session of 11th NPC opened, 18-yr-old Dorjee set himself on fire at around 6.30 pm (Tibet Time) near a government office in Cha (Chinese: Jia) Township, Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) County, Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. Dorjee’s flaming body was seen walking towards the office building as he shouted protest slogans against the Chinese government, according to sources. He died on the spot. Security officers later took away the body despite opposition from the local Tibetans.

On 4 March 2012, on the eve of the NPC session, a 32-yr-old widowed mother of four died after setting herself alight at around 6.30 am (Tibet Time) in front of a police station outside the main gate of Kirti Monastery. Rinchen, whose youngest child is a few-month-old baby and the eldest is 13, demanded the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the restoration of freedom in Tibet. Monks took possession of her burnt body and took it inside the monastery.

On 3 March 2012, the day the Fifth Session of CPPCC opened, a 19-yr-old Tibetan student self-immolated at a vegetable market in Machu (Chinese: Maqu) town, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in Gansu Province. Sources say Tsering Kyi was stoned by Chinese vendors while still in flames and almost provoked a massive clash between the Tibetans and the Chinese stone-throwers. According to sources, the local police have refused to release Tsering’s body to her family unless the family agrees that Tsering’s self-immolation death was motivated by personal problems rather than political grievances. Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency on 7 March echoed the same contention that Tsering’s death was caused by ‘depression’.

To date, continued repression and absence of any recourse to justice have driven 26 Tibetans to self-immolate in protests in Tibet. It is appalling that the Chinese government has consistently reacted with force and violence to stop the self-immolations. Treating it, in a myopic way, as just a law and order issue, the Chinese government has sent security officers particularly the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and Public Security Bureau (PSB) to crush the protests, be it firing unarmed protesters or kicking and beating bodies in flames with spiked batons.

The fact that not a single local official was sent to hear the grievances of the Tibetan self-immolators and other protesters has deeply hurt Tibetan sentiments and corroded the last remaining faith in the government, if any. This situation is in stark contrast to developments in the Chinese fishing village of Wukan in Guangdong province. Sustained protests by Wukan villagers against official land grabs eventually resulted in the expulsion of village officials and the successful election of the protests leaders in their place. These glaring discriminatory practices are just one aspect of the resentment and repression Tibetans feel and experience under Chinese rule.

By blaming the Dalai Lama and ‘hostile foreign forces’ for the situation in Tibet, the Chinese government has so far stonewalled any initiative to listen and address the grievances of the Tibetans. To date, the Chinese government has failed to furnish any evidence to prove this imagined collusion of forces outside and inside Tibet.

The language of violence in Chinese response to Tibetan self-immolation protests is alarming. Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) said in February 2012 that TAR officials are preparing for ‘war against secessionist sabotage’. In his address to the ongoing NPC session, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao stressed the enhancement of Chinese military’s ability to win ‘local wars’ triggering speculations that he was alluding to rigorously enforce domestic stability.

Even as Tibetans set themselves afire, the Chinese authorities continued to introduce new measures, such as ‘Nine Must Haves'[i] and ‘The Six Ones'[ii] to tighten control over Tibetan monastic population. The former program complements the regressive ‘patriotic re-education’ campaigns and the latter effectively allow government cadres to spy on monks and nuns based on six-point directives. Over 20,000 government cadres grouped under various ‘work teams’ have been tasked to ‘re-educate ‘ Tibetans and document their personal details. This program, set to last for 2-3 years, has cadres visiting every village and town located even in the remotest of places in Tibet.

One of the most disturbing developments in Tibet has been the legalization of human rights violations. Repressive official measures such as Party’s interference in Tibetan reincarnations have been cloaked in a veneer of legalistic sheen. Under the so-called ‘law with Chinese characteristics’, the authorities have continued to justify the frequent crackdowns and arbitrary practices all the while making excuses to avoid resolving the issue of Tibet.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy urges the Chinese government to peacefully address the deep-rooted grievances of the Tibetan people. Official Chinese representatives should talk with Tibetans and not only identify the real causes behind these protests but also make an honest effort to resolve them.

The Centre also appeals to the United Nations Human Rights Council to immediately send a fact-finding mission to Tibet and assess the situation on ground.

The Centre makes urgent request to the international community, both governmental and non-governmental bodies, to pressure the government of People’s Republic of China to respect Tibetan people’s life and dignity, their fundamental rights and freedoms, not only on paper but also in practice.
[i] ‘Nine Must Haves’:

[ii] ‘The Six Ones’ are:

1. Make one friend. Each temple management official should try to be soulmates with one or several monks/nuns to understand their difficulties in life and what’s going on in their mind. (要交一个朋友。每个驻寺干部都要与一至几名僧尼交成知心朋友,及时了解他们的生活困难和思想动态。)

2. Visit one family. Each temple management official to visit the families of one or more monks/nuns to understand what’s going on in their homes. (开展一次家访。每个驻寺干部都要联系一至几名僧尼,深入自己所联系的僧尼家中搞一次家访,切实了解僧尼家庭的实际情况。)

3. Solve one problem. To solve the most urgent, real problem facing the family of any monk/nun so as to make them feel the warmth of the party and government. (办一件实事。发挥各自优势,为每个僧尼家庭解决一件最迫切、最现实的困难和问题,让他们切身感受到党和政府的温暖。)

4. Build one file. Establish a file for every monk/nun to document in a detailed fashion their personal and family situation. This will aid in preparedness, understanding and management. (建一套档案。为每个僧尼建立一套档案,详细记录其个人信息和家庭状况,切实做到心中有数、底数清楚,便于管理服务。)

5. Keep clear one communication channel. Steady communications should be maintained between temple management officials and the families of monks/nuns through telephone, letters and house visits, so as to educate them to love the nation and love the religion, as well as to obey the law. (畅通一条渠道。通过电话、通信、家访等方式,建立起驻寺干部与僧尼家庭联系的稳定渠道,与其家人共同教育引导僧尼爱国爱教、遵规守法。)

6. Develop one mechanism. To build temple management committees (with full-time officials) that temple management officials, monks/nuns and families are jointly responsible for. This is to develop a mechanism for building harmonious model temples. (形成一套机制。建立起寺庙管委会(专职特派员)、驻寺干部、僧尼、家庭共同负责、协调联动的构建和谐模范寺庙的好机制。)

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