BEIJING -- Seven ethnic Tibetans in China set themselves on fire in a week’s time, bringing the number of self-immolations in defiance of Chinese government rule to about 60 since last year, according to announcements over the weekend by the Tibetan government in exile and an advocacy group.
The London-based Free Tibet rights advocacy group said the string of self-immolations, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 26, was the highest in a single week since the current spate began in March of 2011.
Six of the self-immolations reportedly resulted in deaths, a stark reminder that Beijing’s attempts to pacify the Tibetan areas in its domain have in many ways failed.
The Chinese government maintains that the acts of protest are part of a conspiracy linked to the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959. But Tibetan groups say they’re a local reaction to an oppressive regime that’s worked to undermine traditional Tibetan culture, religion and language – a sentiment repeated to McClatchy by ethnic Tibetans during interviews over the past two years in areas where self-immolations have occurred.
While the self-immolations have clustered in a region in the north of China’s Sichuan Province, they’ve also spread across two other provinces and Tibet itself, which is ruled by Beijing and known officially as the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Of the seven self-immolations last week, five were reported in China’s western Gansu Province and two were said to have occurred in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The protesters included Dhondup, who like many Tibetans apparently had only one name, a man in his 60s from a farming and nomadic family who last Monday set himself aflame beside a monastery in Gansu’s Xiahe County. The two self-immolations in the Tibet Autonomous Region involved a 20-year-old and a 25-year-old who set themselves on fire together on Thursday. Free Tibet said they were cousins. The next day, two Tibetan men in their 20s set themselves on fire separately in Gansu’s Xiahe County – both died.
Chinese authorities have tried hard to prevent independent research on the subject. Foreign journalists are banned from travel without permission in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and Tibetan areas in outlying provinces are stacked with security roadblocks.
That’s led to a situation in which verification of many details is between difficult and impossible.
“Chinese state security are out in large numbers in the area, Internet and telephone communication systems are often blocked and … Tibetans are afraid to talk about what is happening because they fear that their communications are being monitored by the government,” said a statement by Free Tibet.
The self-immolations of the pair in the Tibet Autonomous Region on Thursday were not confirmed by the Tibetan government in exile, which calls itself the Central Tibetan Administration, until Sunday.
“Tsepo, 20, and Tenzin, 25, set themselves on fire near a school,” said a statement by the Central Tibetan Administration, which is based in Dharamsala, India.
“They raised slogans calling for independence, the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, and unity among the Tibetan people,” the statement said. “Tsepo died on the spot, while the whereabouts and well-being of Tenzin remain unknown.”