New Law to Punish Tibetan Self-Immolators

December 10, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
A woman looks at an exhibition showing portraits of reported self-immolation victims in Tibet in Taipei in late June. Chinese communist officials plan to punish any Tibetans who encourage or facilitate self-immolations. (Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese communist officials have unveiled a new mandate that would indict for homicide any Tibetans who encourage or facilitate self-immolations. The move was quickly denounced, with Chinese netizens saying it undermines the rule of law.

Those who encourage or facilitate self-immolations will be held “criminally responsible” for homicide while the self-immolators–who usually die at the scene–will be charged with endangering public safety, according to a report by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, citing officials with the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security. 

Pro-Tibetan human rights organizations, including Free Tibet, say the recent wave of self-immolations has been triggered by repressive Chinese policies to crack down on the region. Since February 2009, there have been 94 instances when Tibetans set themselves on fire in protest of the Chinese regime’s policies, calling for freedom in Tibet, and the return of the Dalai Lama.

On Saturday, two Tibetan men–including a monk–burned themselves in separate protests against Chinese rule, reported Radio Free Asia. They were the latest people to set themselves on fire. 

Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said on his Sina Weibo account that since the new law was issued by the Supreme Court and People’s Procuratorate in tandem with the Public Security, it means “the judicial system is a huge mess.” He added that there are no checks and balances in China’s government to cancel each other out, meaning that this law is another example of the judiciary’s collusion with state security organs.

“It is said that this is an administrative document, but both the procuratorate and the court are both involved,” he noted. “It said it was not a judicial interpretation, but the Public Security–which doesn’t belong to any judicial department–took part in the decision. A simple opinion could be used for incrimination. Shocking!”

State media reported this weekend that police in Sichuan Province detained a Tibetan Buddhist monk and his relative for “inciting” self-immolations in the region.

Another netizen pointed out that the crackdown in Tibetan areas carried out by local Chinese authorities has pressured Tibetans into setting themselves on fire. “Shouldn’t the government be held criminally responsible for homicide instead?” he asked.  

“How could people kill themselves in a way that causes so much suffering if they had a good life?” another blogger questioned. “The [Communist Party] should take responsibility for it!”

Children Not Spared

To illustrate the severity of the crackdown, a report issued Monday said that Tibetan children have not been spared from torture, arbitrary arrest, and other human rights abuses at the hands of Chinese authorities.

In the past year–as more Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of repressive Chinese policies–there have been a number of cases where children and teenagers “face all the challenges of life under occupation, and in many cases are full participants in the struggle to resist it,” reads a summary by Free Tibet and Tibet Watch’s report published last week. 

“Over two-thirds of those who have self-immolated in Tibet are younger than 25 and 
have only ever known life under Chinese rule,” it adds. A number of children under the age of 18 have also burned themselves.

The statement continued: “These acts of self-immolation are driven by the lack of recourse to freedom of expression, political or legal redress, and must be seen as evidence that China’s policies … are directly causing serious violations.”

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