[Buddha-l] Chinese court re: Tibetan immolations

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sat Feb 2 16:23:44 MST 2013

nyt -- Tibetans starting to question the value and effectiveness of the 
self-immolations. Online article includes some photos.


February 2, 2013
As Self-Immolations Approach 100, Some Tibetans Are Asking if It Is Worth It
NEW DELHI - A crowd of Tibetans came here to India's capital last week, 
bearing flags and political banners and a bittersweet admixture of hope and 
despair. A grim countdown was under way: The number of Tibetans who have set 
themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule in Tibet had reached 99, one 
short of an anguished milestone.

Yet as that milestone hung over the estimated 5,000 Tibetans who gathered in 
a small stadium, so did an uncertainty about whether the rest of the world 
was paying attention at all. In speeches, Tibetan leaders described the 
self-immolations as the desperate acts of a people left with no other way to 
draw global attention to Chinese policies in Tibet.

"What is forcing these self-immolations?" Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of 
the Tibetan government-in-exile, asked in an interview. "There is no freedom 
of speech. There is no form of political protest allowed in Tibet."

Billed as the Tibetan People's Solidarity Campaign, the four-day gathering 
featured protests, marches, Buddhist prayer sessions and political speeches 
in an attempt to push Tibet back onto a crowded international agenda. If the 
Arab Spring has inspired hope among some Tibetans that political change is 
always possible, it has also offered a sobering reminder that no two 
situations are the same, nor will the international community respond in the 
same fashion.

"The world is paying attention, but not enough," Mr. Sangay added. "There 
was a self-immolation in Tunisia which was labeled the catalyst for the Arab 
Spring. We've been committed to nonviolence for many decades. And how come 
we have been given less support than what we witnessed in the Arab world?"

Yet even as the self-immolations have become central to the Tibetan protest 
movement, a quiet debate has been under way among Tibetans who are anguished 
over the deaths of their young men and who question how the acts reconcile 
with Buddhist teachings. Again and again, speakers emphasized that the 
Tibetan movement remains nonviolent and that the people who have 
self-immolated harmed only themselves.

"None of them have tried to harm anybody else," said Penpa Tsering, the 
speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, which is based in Dharamsala, the Indian 
city that is host to the exiled Tibetan government. "None of the 99 people 
have tried to harm any Chinese."

The Tibetan self-immolations began in 2009 as protests against China's rule 
in Tibetan regions of the country. At least 81 Tibetans have died after 
their acts, and nearly all the self-immolations have occurred inside Tibet, 
with news smuggled out via e-mail or through networks of advocacy groups.

The Chinese authorities have responded by taking a harder line. Last week, a 
Chinese court handed down stiff sentences to a Tibetan monk and his nephew 
on charges that they had urged eight people to set themselves on fire, 
according to Chinese state news media. The monk was given a suspended death 
sentence, usually equivalent to life in prison, and the authorities have 
made it clear that committing or encouraging the act will be treated as 
intentional homicide. (Mr. Sangay said that six others in a different area 
of Tibet were also given harsh sentences.)

The Chinese government has blamed the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual 
leader, for inciting ordinary Tibetans to carry out self-immolations. 
Tibetans rebut the claim, saying the cause is Chinese repression.

"What are you left with?" Mr. Penpa asked. "The only thing you can do is 
sacrifice your life."

With the Dalai Lama having ceded political control of the Tibetan 
government - and having encouraged the elections that elevated Mr. Sangay, a 
former lecturer at Harvard, to prime minister - the Tibetan movement is in 
flux. To some degree, last week's events were part of continued efforts to 
establish Mr. Sangay and other democratically elected Tibetan members of 
Parliament as figures capable of rallying political support for a movement 
long dependent on the charisma and stature of the Dalai Lama. (He did not 
attend the gathering.)

For more than a half century, India has been the primary host of exiled 
Tibetans, and many of the people who flocked to New Delhi came from special 
Tibetan villages elsewhere in the country. Lobsang Thai, 28, who came from 
Mundgod, a Tibetan village in the Indian state of Karnataka, said the 
self-immolations reflected the desperate situation in Tibet. "I don't think 
it is about right or wrong," he said. "That is the only thing we can do 
without hurting other people. That's the best way to get the world's 

Tenzin Losec, 42, who is from Mainpat, a Tibetan village in the Indian state 
of Chhattisgarh, agreed. "This is very sad for us," he said. "But people 
inside Tibet, they have no other way. They have no rights. Outside Tibet, we 
are trying to raise awareness around the world."

Tibetan leaders were determined to portray the week's events as evidence 
that the global community, especially India, supported their aspirations. 
Lawmakers and other political figures from India's leading political parties 
appeared at different events, though the government's top leaders stayed 

Mr. Sangay and others want the United Nations to push China to improve 
conditions in Tibet and also to allow inspectors to tour the region. "The 
Chinese government should feel pressure to do something," he said. "This is 
leading to a vicious cycle: hard-line policies, protests, repression, more 
hard-line policies, more protests, more repression."

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