100th person in Tibet defies Chinese repression by setting themselves on fire in protest

Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Free Tibet Press Release: 13 February 2013

Lobsang Namgyal, a 37-year-old monk of Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, is the 100th Tibetan in Tibet to set fire to themselves to protest China’s occupation. A number of Tibetans outside Tibet have also set fire to themselves in solidarity in the last two years, including in Kathmandu earlier today.

Lobsang Namgyal set fire to himself, calling out for the long life of the Dalai Lama, in front of Dzoge County Public Security Bureau office (1) ten days ago, on 3 February 2013. He died at the scene and his body was removed by officials who cremated him and returned his ashes to his family.

It has taken 10 days to confirm news of Lobsang Namgyal protest because Tibetans are too frightened of Chinese state reprisals to speak about protests. Most people believe that all communications are monitored and there have been a number of high profile convictions for Tibetans accused of sharing information. In the days following Lobsang Namgyal’s self-immolation his younger brother was detained, his family members followed and their telephones bugged.

In September 2012, Lobsang Namgyal was disappeared for two weeks, during which time his family searched for him but were not informed that he was being held by the police. After his detention, Lobsang Namgyal disrobed, reportedly due to threats by the police; he was routinely followed by Chinese state officials in the period after his arrest.

Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said:

“This grim milestone should be a source of shame to the Chinese authorities who are responsible and to the world leaders who have yet to show any leadership in response to the ongoing crisis in Tibet.

“China employs brutal repression, propaganda and bribery to no avail: protest and resistance will continue as long as the Tibetan people are denied their freedom.

“While there have been many ‘expressions of concern’ through back channels or by junior ministers and Under Secretaries, global leaders have chosen not to antagonise China by speaking up for the oppressed people of Tibet. It is long past time for that to change: do another 100 have to set themselves alight before the international community holds China to account?”

Self-immolations were unknown in Tibet until 2009 but escalated dramatically in 2012. More than one third of all self-immolations have taken place since the beginning of November 2012 and Lobsang Namgyal’s is the fourth in 2013 (2). The motivation for these protests is clear: Tibetans are calling for freedom.

Cousins Sonam and Choephak Kyap left a message before they self-immolated saying:

“We the Tibetan people suffer without our human rights. The suffering Tibetan people experience due to the denial of our freedom is much greater than the suffering of setting [our bodies] on fire” (3)

Last December, 17-year-old Sangye Dolma left a picture before her self-immolation, in which she had written “Tibet is an independent country” on her hand (4).

China’s response to self-immolations and the many other forms of protest taking place across Tibet has been further repression. Peaceful protesters have been shot and killed, tortured, disappeared and detained incommunicado for months (5). Conviction for any involvement in protests can lead to sentences of more than ten years and people accused of instigating fatal protests have been charged with murder, with one man handed a suspended death sentence, while several others have been sentenced to up to 13 years imprisonment (6). Communities in which protests take place are punished by the withdrawal of government projects and gatherings to express condolences to the families of those killed are prohibited (7). Authorities in one region have recently offered rewards of up to sixty times the average Tibetan annual wage for information or actions by individuals to stop self-immolations (8).

China is going to great lengths to create an information blackout in Tibet, banning international journalists and observers, cutting telephone lines, blocking the internet and meting out severe punishments on Tibetans for sharing information.

A number of countries have expressed concern over self-immolations and the Chinese response but national leaders such as David Cameron and President Obama have remained silent – in stark contrast to their approach to the sacrifices and resistance of people in countries such as Libya and Syria.

Ends
Notes to Editors

(1) Ngaba Prefecture, Eastern Tibet; Chinese: Ruoergai County, Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province

(2) See full list of self-immolators and further information at http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/full-list-self-immolations-tibet One protest took place in 2009, 12 in 2011 and 83 in 2012. 78 of those who have set themselves on fire are confirmed dead – all others have been apprehended by security forces and their health status and whereabouts are unknown. Two-thirds of self-immolators have been under 25 and the youngest to die was 15. One Tibetan woman travelled to Beijing to make her protest, the only self-immolation so far in China.

(3) Press release: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/two-young-tibetans-self-immolate

(4) Further information: http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/last-message-teenage-nun

(5) Further information: http://www.freetibet.org/about/human-rights-tibet

(6) http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/monks-receive-heavy-sentences-%E2%80%9Cinciting%E2%80%9D-self-immolations

(7) Information confirmed by Tibet Watch

(8) Information confirmed by Tibet Watch

Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans to be respected. Tibet Watch promotes the human rights of the Tibetan people by providing accurate information about the situation in Tibet, for the purposes of educating people and engaging in international advocacy on behalf of the Tibetan people.

For further information and to arrange an interview with Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden, contact Harriet Beaumont

E: harriet@freetibet.org
M: +44 7900 203307
T: +44 207 324 4605