12th Tibetan Self-Immolation Occurs Amid Harsh Repression

December 5, 2011 Updated: December 7, 2011
Tibetans' are forced to bow down as they are taken away by Chinese security forces
Tibetans' are forced to bow down as they are taken away by Chinese security forces. (From a Chinese military forum)

The tragic news of a twelfth self-immolation case by a Tibetan monk in China this year was published simultaneously with photos posted on several websites showing how Chinese security forces have been cracking down on Tibetans in a manner that is reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.

Forty-six-year-old Tenzin Phuntsok, a former Tibetan monk, was hospitalized after setting himself on fire on Dec. 1. It was the first self-immolation case in the Tibetan autonomous region, and the twelfth case in China this year.

Phuntsok set himself on fire in the Chamdo area of Tibet to protest the arrest by Chinese authorities of over 70 Tibetan monks from the Karma Monastery, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Chinese authorities have accused the temple of causing an explosion in Karma Township in late October and arrested more than 70 monks, with many more being forced to flee to the mountains, Sang Jey Kep, editor of Tibet Bulletin, published by the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India, told RFA. Tenzin Phuntsok self-immolated to protest the Chinese authorities’ tight control over the temple and the area, Sang said.

Chinese security forces transport Tibetan prisoners
Chinese security forces transport Tibetan prisoners with their heads forced down. (From a Chinese military forum)

Sang Jey Kep said police put out the fire and sent Tenzin Phuntsok to a hospital, but his current condition is unclear.

Since March 2011, twelve Tibetan monks or nuns have set themselves on fire to protest Beijing’s repressive Tibet policy. At least six of the self-immolators have died.

In an interview with BBC Chinese, Lobsang Sangay, the Prime Minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, said the recent self-immolation protests reflect the desperation of Tibetans under Chinese communist rule.

Chinese authorities have instituted a series of repressive measures in Tibetan monasteries, including forcing the monks to criticize the Dalai Lama, Sangay said.

The Chinese regime has accused the Dalai Lama of supporting and encouraging the self-immolations. But Sangay denied the accusation, saying that both the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile have clearly discouraged self-immolation. Sangay said he hopes that diplomats and international media will be able to enter some monasteries to conduct investigations.

Cultural Revolution Style Crackdown

Chinese security forces take Tibetan monks into custody
Chinese security forces take Tibetan monks into custody. (From a Chinese military forum)

Since the March 2008 protests, the region has been under heavy security clampdown and foreign journalists are barred from independently traveling to the Tibetan autonomous region or the Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province.

Beginning Dec. 2, several websites, including Free Tibet and Voice of Tibet, have posted photos showing Chinese security forces punishing Tibetans in crackdowns reminiscent of the public shaming used during the Cultural Revolution. Photos show Tibetan monks with their heads being forced down, and with placards on their chests bearing their names and alleged crimes, i.e. “separatist” or “assembling to attack state institutions,” while being escorted away by Chinese police.

The websites did not give the sources of these photos, except for backchina.com, which indicated that the photos were from a Chinese military forum.

Free Tibet posted photos that had been republished on Boxun.com, a Chinese language website based in the U.S. The Boxun article said the photos were taken in the Tibetan areas of Kandze autonomous prefecture and Ngaba autonomous prefecture of Sichuan Province. The photos had originally been posted on a Chinese military forum.


Tibetan monks on their knees, hands tied behind their backs
Tibetan monks on their knees, hands tied behind their backs, wearing placards around their necks, after being arrested by Chinese security forces. (From a Chinese military forum)

Voice of Tibet published the same set of photos from Tibetan writer and activist Tsering Woeser’s blog, who had republished them. Woeser said the Tibetans in the photos were arrested for “separatism” or “assembling to attack state institutions,” the same charges Chinese authorities used when they arrested Tibetans earlier this year.

Woeser dates the photos to either 2011 or in 2008, after the protests in March. She said, judging from the street signs and landscape, the photos were most likely taken in Ngaba Town of Sichuan Province, where eight Tibetan monks and one nun have self-immolated.

According to Woeser, from March of 2008 to Oct. 17, 2011, 34 Tibetans in Ngaba autonomous prefecture have died from either self-immolation or from being beaten and tortured by Chinese security forces. Three hundred monks from Kirti Monastery in Ngaba were arrested after the March 16, 2008 protest, in which a young Tibetan monk also self-immolated and eventually died. Another 619 were arrested and 108 sentenced.