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Spike in Tibetan self-immolations draws international attention to China

Today, yet another Tibetan died after he set himself on fire in protest. And neither the Chinese authorities nor exiled Tibetan leaders seem able, or willing, to halt the recent spike in such incidents.

By Staff Writer / November 30, 2012

An exile Tibetan girl lights a candle during a candlelit vigil to remember two Tibetans who have self-immolated in Tibet, in Dharmsala, India, this August.

Ashwini Bhatia/AP

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When Tsering Nyamgal set himself alight on Thursday, he became the 27th Tibetan this month to choose fiery death as a way to protest against Chinese rule.

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Mr. Namgyal was the latest voluntary victim in a recent spike in such protests that neither the Chinese authorities nor exiled Tibetan leaders seem able, or willing, to halt.

“We are looking at disaster,” says Robbie Barnett, a prominent expert on Tibetan affairs at Columbia University in New York. “It is a rolling wheel of death and if the Chinese government does not pay attention to Tibetan demands, more and more people will die.”

Namgyal, a father of two, set himself on fire near the government offices in Luqu, a predominantly Tibetan area of Gansu Province, according to Phayul, a Tibetan exile website. He was the 89th Tibetan to self-immolate since Feb. 2009, and No. 74 to die of his injuries, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, a Washington-based advocacy group. 

Dramatic illustrations of frustration

Although the movement began with Tibetan Buddhist monks, recent self-immolators have tended to be young laymen – and women. According to eyewitness reports appearing on exile websites alongside photographs of burning bodies, many of the men have shouted anti-Chinese slogans and praise for the Dalai Lama as they have died.

Their protests are dramatic illustrations of the frustration that many Tibetans living under Chinese rule – not just in the area designated as the Tibet Autonomous Region but across a wide swathe of western China – feel about the way the authorities treat them.

High on their list of grievances a lack of control over their ancestral lands, subjugation to Chinese economic interests, and a lack of respect for Tibetan language and culture. 

An unusual student demonstration on Monday broke out in Qinghai Province protesting the distribution of an official booklet referring to the Tibetan language as “irrelevant” and to the wave of self-immolations as “acts of stupidity,” according to reports by US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia.

Campaign to stop self-immolations


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