Four more ethnic Tibetans have self-immolated to protest Chinese rule and at least 20 were hospitalized after clashing with police in a protest over a government booklet calling the Tibetan language irrelevant, a report and exile groups said Tuesday.
More than 80 Tibetans in China have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest against what overseas supporters say is China’s strict control over Tibet’s Buddhist culture and a suffocating security presence in Tibetan regions.
Four more self-immolations were reported Sunday and Monday in Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.
At least 20 students were hospitalized Monday after a protest turned violent in Qinghai province’s Hainan prefecture, U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia said in an emailed statement that cited Tibetan exile sources who were in touch with Hainan residents. London-based exile group Free Tibet said up to 1,000 students took part in the demonstration.
Radio Free Asia said students were angry over a booklet distributed at Tsolho Medical Institute in Hainan that called Tibetan irrelevant and condemned immolation protests by Tibetans as “acts of stupidity.” It said students burned the books in their protest.
Hainan government and police officials referred calls to other departments where the phone rang unanswered on Tuesday.
The broadcaster also quoted anonymous sources inside China’s Tibetan areas as saying teenaged nun Sangay Dolmas died from self-immolation on Sunday in Qinghai’s Tongren county. On Monday, 18-year-old Kunchok Tsering died after burning himself in Gansu province’s Xiahe county while in Sichuan’s Seda country a 20-year-old former monk, Wang Gyal, self-immolated though his condition was not immediately known, it said.
Also Monday, in Gansu province’s Luqu county, 24-year-old Gonpo Tsering died after setting himself ablaze, the report said.
The Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet said that as of Monday the toll in China’s Tibetan areas from self-immolations had reached 84, though the organization’s count did not include Gonpo Tsering.
Most of the protesters have doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves alight after shouting slogans calling for Tibetan independence and blessings for the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader. China blames him for encouraging the wave of self-immolations that Beijing has apparently been powerless to stop despite stepped-up security and an extensive spying network.
Independent verification of events and conditions in Tibet is nearly impossible because of restrictions on travel.
China crackdown worsening Tibetan immolations
Three people have set themselves ablaze since Thursday, two in China’s northwestern province of Qinghai and one in neighbouring Gansu, the International Campaign for Tibet said.“The Tibetans who are self-immolating—now in more rapid succession—have clearly not been dissuaded by the security buildup or other means of official intimidation,” ICT head Mary Beth Markey said in a statement.
“Unless and until there is some initiative that can break through the cycle of repression and protest, I think we all acknowledge that more Tibetans will be prepared to take the agonising action of self-immolation.”
At least 81 Tibetans have set themselves alight in China’s Tibetan-inhabited regions since 2009, with most cases occurring in the last year and the majority ending in death, according to the group.
Many Tibetans accuse China of religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country’s majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.
China says Tibetans enjoy religious freedom, and points to huge and ongoing investment which it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living.
Most of the self-immolations occured near Kirti monastery, a historic centre of Tibetan Buddhist learning in Aba prefecture of Sichuan province, which borders Qinghai and Gansu.
The monastery has been the focus of a crackdown on separatism since anti-Chinese riots rocked the Tibetan plateau in 2008. The crackdown has intensified with the increase of self-immolations.
On Saturday Sichuan Communist Party head Wang Dongming called for a further intensification of the crackdown in a speech in Aba, the provincial government said on its website.
“Our struggle with the Dalai (Lama) splittist clique is long-term, arduous and complicated. In fighting separatism and upholding stability we can never relax our work in the slightest,” Wang said.
“We must strengthen and be innovative in accordance with law in our management of the monasteries and unite the people in the common task to fight separatism and maintain stability.”
The Tibetan government-in-exile in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala has expressed “deep concern over the alarming escalation in self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet”.
Dharamshala has been the headquarters of Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama since he fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The exiled government said five self-immolations have occurred in the last week, while 19 Tibetans have set themselves alight in November alone.
China has reacted by sending in troops, stepping up the policing of monasteries and cutting off communications and Internet access in areas where most of the suicide protests occur, the ICT campaign group said.
“Officials in the Rebkong area (in Qinghai) have warned Tibetans not to go to the homes of those who have self-immolated to express condolences,” it said.
“They also said that if monks go to pray for self-immolators, monasteries will be closed down and the families of self-immolators will be punished.”