[Buddha-l] 100th self-immolation in Tibet

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Thu Feb 14 15:57:17 MST 2013


(Online article includes two photos)

February 14, 2013
100th Self-Immolation Reported Inside Tibet
A former Tibetan Buddhist monk protested Chinese rule by killing himself 
through self-immolation this month, becoming the 100th person to do so 
inside Chinese-governed Tibet, according to reports on Wednesday by Tibet 
advocacy groups.

The Tibetan man, Lobsang Namgyal, 37, formerly of Kirti Monastery, set fire 
to himself on Feb. 3 in front of an office of the public security bureau in 
a county of Sichuan Province and died on the scene, according to Free Tibet, 
which is based in London. Free Tibet said in a news release that it had 
taken 10 days to confirm the self-immolation "because Tibetans are too 
frightened of Chinese state reprisals to speak about protests."

Another advocacy group, the International Campaign for Tibet, reported that 
monks living in exile in India who had received word of the self-immolation 
had said that during the act, Mr. Lobsang Namgyal called for the long life 
of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans.

The monks, who live in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government 
in exile, come from the same monastery as Mr. Lobsang Namgyal, and said he 
had been an exceptional student chosen to study for a Geshe degree, the 
highest qualification in Tibetan Buddhism.

"He was regarded as a model for a new generation of students at Kirti," the 
monks said in a statement translated by the International Campaign for 

The monks said Mr. Lobsang Namgyal had disappeared in September and was 
believed to have been temporarily detained in Sichuan Province by local 
security forces. Officials had sought to isolate him and ruin his 
reputation, they said, and he continued to be under intense surveillance 
even after leaving for a rural nomadic area. His family had also come under 

The wave of self-immolations in Tibet, which began in 2009, has brought into 
sharp relief the intense frustration and defiance of Tibetans, whose vast 
homeland came under Communist rule after Chinese troops occupied central 
Tibet in 1951. At least 82 of the 100 self-immolators have died.

Earlier Wednesday, a Tibetan man walked onto a street in Katmandu, the 
capital of Nepal, which borders Tibet, and set himself on fire. He was the 
latest of a half-dozen Tibetans to immolate themselves outside Tibet in 
protest against China. Nepal is home to thousands of Tibetan exiles.

The authorities said the man, who witnesses told The Associated Press had 
been wearing monk's robes, died Wednesday night at a local hospital. The 
witnesses said the man had shouted slogans against China before falling to 
the ground.

The protester, who had not been identified, set himself ablaze near a 
Buddhist stupa in the Boudhanath area of Katmandu, where many Tibetans live. 
He timed his act to coincide with the important Tibetan festival of Losar, 
or the Tibetan New Year. Those still in Tibet have not observed the festival 
since a widespread uprising against China in 2008, and the government in 
exile, in solidarity, has asked other Tibetans not to celebrate it.

Nepal is pinched between China and India and for decades has served as a way 
station for Tibetans escaping Chinese rule. In recent years, Chinese leaders 
have pressured Nepal's government to choke off this flow of refugees and to 
limit political protests by Tibetans living in Nepal, which has resulted in 
growing frustration among those Tibetans.

Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, 
expressed sadness about the self-immolation in Nepal and said his 
administration had asked Tibetans not to take drastic actions. But he also 
placed the blame for such acts on the Chinese government.

"The occupation of Tibet and repression of Tibetans are the primary reason 
for the self-immolations inside Tibet," Mr. Sangay said by e-mail while 
visiting the United States. "The solution to the tragedy in Tibet lies with 
Beijing, and my administration is fully committed to dialogue and to address 
the issue peacefully."

Chinese officials in Beijing and in Dzorge County of Sichuan Province, known 
as Zoige in Chinese, where Mr. Lobsang Namgyal died, could not be reached 
for comment. Government offices in China are closed for the lunar new year 

Chinese officials in the past said the self-immolators were mentally 
unstable or blamed outside agitators. Despite the accusations, Chinese 
officials have never provided evidence of any connection between the acts 
and the Dalai Lama or other Tibetan leaders in exile. Recently, Chinese 
officials have tried pressing a campaign to criminally prosecute people tied 
to those who immolate themselves; as a result, several monks have been given 
harsh prison sentences.

Security forces have also flooded towns in parts of the Tibetan plateau 
where the self-immolations have been common. But nothing the authorities 
have done has curbed the acts, which are being committed by a wide range of 
Tibetans, from young men to middle-aged parents. They have taken place 
mostly in eastern Tibetan, known as Kham and Amdo to Tibetans and now part 
of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai.

"There has been clear evidence from at least some of the immolators 
themselves that they have acted as they have in order to demonstrate 
resistance to Chinese rule," said Elliot Sperling, a scholar of Tibet at 
Indiana University. "The fact that these immolations continue even now, 
after China has opted for a harsh crackdown in areas that have witnessed 
these acts, is telling."

Another scholar, Tom Grunfeld at Empire State College of the State 
University of New York, said that people on the outside had been generally 
"stumped as to what's driving this," but that what was interesting was "how 
helpless the Chinese state is in combating this."

So fearful are Chinese officials of the self-immolations and the message 
they send that the officials have even put fire extinguishers in Tiananmen 
Square in Beijing, thousands of miles from where the acts have occurred. 
Chinese leaders are sensitive to the fact that protesters across China often 
try to make their way to the square. Officials in Tibetan regions have also 
equipped security forces with fire extinguishers and put them in 

Officials have tried to prevent foreigners from traveling to the sites of 
the self-immolations.

Tibetans interviewed last year in Dharamsala said the security crackdown 
after the 2008 uprising had contributed to a growing spirit of defiance 
among Tibetans. The first self-immolation in Tibetan regions was by Tapey, a 
monk from Kirti, in February 2009. He survived. The next self-immolation 
occurred outside Kirti in March 2011.

Kirti monks in exile said Mr. Lobsang Namgyal had returned to Kirti days 
before his death and told some people that he wanted to go on a religious 

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