‘Absurd and terrifying’ new regulations escalate drive to criminalize self-immolations by targeting family, villagers, monasteries

  • County-level authorities in Dzoege, Ngaba, have issued harsh new rulings that threaten to penalize villagers, monks and others in the area if a self-immolation occurs.
  • The measures state that family, fellow villagers, and monasteries could be subject to punishment and persecution if a Tibetan self-immolator is a relative or from the local area, with potentially devastating consequences on the broader community. Tibetan writer Woeser, who posted images of the notices on her blog, described them as “absurd and terrifying”.
  • The regulations include more severe tactics in an attempt to prevent self-immolations or other forms of protest, although evidence suggests that self-immolations by Tibetans are a solitary act, without inducement from others.[1]

The 16-point document was issued in Tibetan and Chinese on April 8, 2013 by Dzoege (Chinese: Ruo’ergai) county government in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo), but has only just been received by Tibetans in exile due to a deepening crackdown in the area including more systematic measures to block information flow. While it is unprecedented that such measures are detailed in writing, numerous threats similar to these rulings have been made to families and friends of those who have self-immolated in other areas, such as Ngaba (Chinese: Aba).[2]

The rulings, translated in full below from Chinese, state the following:

  • Families and relatives of Tibetans who self-immolate will not be able to hold government positions or receive official aid
  • Those who self-immolate and their family members will lose household registration benefits
  • Villages where the self-immolation protests occur will be completely deprived of government assistance, and farmland or pasture registered in the name of the self-immolator taken by the authorities
  • Monasteries where self-immolations occur will have to pay a penalty of between 10,000 to 500,000 yuan (U.S. $1,650 to U.S. $81,978). Large rewards are offered to those who provide information on people who may be planning to self-immolate, or those that have occurred.

The measures announced in Dzoege are a new development in an increasingly aggressive drive to criminalise self-immolations. This has resulted in the imposition of long prison sentences for those singled out by the authorities for blame, including monks who have led prayers for those who died, or friends and relatives of those who have self-immolated. They are evidence of the authorities’ failure to prevent self-immolations, and the concern of Tibetan local officials about their relationship with the central government as a result.

Regional and local officials also know that strong and harshly-worded statements about the need to improve ‘stability maintenance’ (weiwen) is a way of obtaining increased resources from the central authorities.[3] In Chinese political language, ‘stability’ is a coded reference to the need to prevent any form of ‘social disorder.’ In Tibetan areas of the PRC, ‘stability maintenance’ has effectively been carried out on a war footing.

There have been nine self-immolations, including two twin immolations in 2013, in Dzoege. Despite the intense restrictions, in many cases local Tibetans in Dzoege have been able to retrieve the bodies and organize prayer ceremonies. On February 19, 2013, schoolfriends 17-year old Rinchen and 18-year old Sonam Dhargye died in a twin self-immolation in Dzoege township. According to Tibetan sources, their families were able to recover their bodies. Two monks of the Taktsang Lhamo Kirti monastery in Dzoege, Losang Dawa, 20, and Konchok Woeser, 23, set themselves on fire in the monastery’s assembly hall on April 24, 2013. They shouted slogans against Chinese government policies in Tibet, and died immediately. The monks took their bodies to their rooms and said prayers for them.

Four months earlier, on December 8, 2012 at the same monastery, hundreds of monks chanted prayers for 24-year old monk Kunchok Pelgye after he set himself on fire and died outside the main assembly hall of Taktsang Lhamo Kirti. (ICT report, Three Tibetans self-immolate in two days during important Buddhist anniversary: images of troops in Lhasa as Tibetans pray).

One hundred and twenty-seven Tibetans have set fire to themselves in Tibet and China since February, 2009 – most recently Lobsang Dorje, a former monk from Kirti monastery, set himself on fire on February 13 on the main street in Ngaba county town. (ICT, Self-immolations by Tibetans).

A full translation of the document from the Chinese follows below.

Notice of Provisional Anti-Self-Immolation Regulations

Issued by the Dzoege County People’s Government

To the masses and cadres of the entire county:

At this key time, while people across the county have been diligently pursuing leapfrog economic and social development and long-term social stability, the majority of the masses, the majority of the monasteries, and the majority of the clergy firmly support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the socialist system, and the system of minority nationality autonomy. This has had a positive effect on social stability and national unity, but a few people harbor bad intentions, and illegal criminal elements, in order to achieve their goal, intentionally destroyed the good situation of stability and unity. Over and over again they created self-immolation events, seriously disturbing the routine lives and order of the masses, and seriously impeding the healthy economic and social development of our county. Through research and analysis, we have developed these special restrictions in order to crack down on criminals, punish evildoers, propagate virtue, maintain social harmony and stability, and protect the principal benefits of the masses:

  1. The immediate family members of a self-immolator (parents, spouse, children, brothers and sisters) will lose their eligibility to become a civil servant, apply for employment, become workers or service personnel, or to serve in the military.
  2. The immediate family members of a self-immolator will lose their eligibility to stand for election, to serve as a deputy of the National People’s Congress at any level, and to serve as a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress member or village (district) cadre.
  3. Civil servants in state organs, career staff, and support service staff should consciously strengthen the education of their relatives, because any self-immolation that takes place in their immediate family will be dealt with severely, in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations.
  4. The self-immolator, his/her family members and anyone actively involved will have their household (registration) benefits cancelled for three years, and for one year for their associates.[4]
  5. National investment projects in monasteries or villages will be canceled or suspended when a self-immolation takes place there.[5]
  6. The family or households of the self-immolator and the other active participants will be classified as ‘untrustworthy’[6] households, and the village and monastery in which it took place will be classified as untrustworthy villages, while the villages and temples in which it took place will be barred from receiving loans for three years, Where financial institutions have already issued loans, it will be taken back and the loan will be withheld.[7]
  7. In cases where a self-immolation takes place in a village or at a monastery, a deposit from 10,000-500,000 yuan ($1,650 – $81,978) must be made as an ‘anti-self-immolation guarantee’. If no further self-immolation cases occur during the next two years the deposit will be refunded; if another one occurs the deposit will be confiscated [by the authorities], and the village will be subject to another deposit.
  8. After a self-immolation the village (district) cadres, members of the temple’s Democratic Management Committee, and religious teachers will find their financial support affected, and they will be disqualified from excellence awards that year.[8]
  9. All farmland and pasture usage rights belonging to a self-immolator will be revoked, and all land and pasture rights belonging to the village (district) where the self-immolation took place will be frozen.[9]
  10. The house and land ownership of self-immolators, their immediate family members, and the families (households) of other active participants will not be certified, and they will not have any business activities approved for three years.
  11. Applications to go abroad [to cross the border] or to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region by the immediate family members of a self-immolator will not be approved for three years.
  12. Wherever self-immolation cases occur there will be “strike hard” campaigns, while at the same time there will be the most harsh and comprehensive administrative law enforcement and punishment.
  13. In the villages (communities) and monasteries where self-immolations occur, the townships and monasteries will host legal education classes for villagers (residents), clergy, and responsible religious teachers. If it’s a relatively minor case, and it does not constitute a criminal offense, the immediate family of the self-immolator and other active participants must participate in 15 days of legal education classes held off-site.
  14. In monasteries where self-immolations occur, the Buddhist activities of monks and nuns will temporarily be severely restricted, as well as large-scale Buddhist activities across the region.
  15. In accordance with the law, the finances of a monastery where a self-immolation occurs will be cleaned up and investigated, and the business activities of the monastery will be suspended for rectification. The financial revenue and expenditures, and the donations and their uses, will be reported to the monastic Democratic Management Committee, and published regularly to the monks, nuns, and masses of religious believers.
  16. Those providing leads, intelligence, and information regarding self-immolations, once verified, will be given a reward from 2,000 to 500,000 yuan ($327 – $81,978), depending on the value. This will be kept strictly confidential.

The above regulations are effective immediately upon publication, and take precedent over any other provisions inconsistent with the above.


Footnotes

[1] According to ICT research in self-immolations including interviews with family members or friends in exile. Tibetans who decide to self-immolate know the political climate and appear to have mostly made the decision not to tell family or friends beforehand for fear they may face retribution. See ICT report, ‘Storm in the Grasslands’.

[2] A Tibet Times report published on January 14, 2014, cited a monk from Ngaba who said that while threats had been made about withdrawal of financial support, some villages had benefited from more financial support after self-immolations. Translation into French by Katia Buffetrille article in http://www.gitpa.org/Qui%20sommes%20nous%20GITPA%20100/ACTUlettreTibetimmolations.htm.

[3] Progressive Chinese scholars and lawyers have criticised the ‘stability maintenance’ (weiwen) approach – associated with a dramatic expansion of powers of China’s policing and military apparatus, and based on crushing dissent to one-Party rule – across the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a fundamental failure in policy.

[4] Dzoege is a pastoral area, and this point is likely to refer to benefits that local farmers may receive from the local authorities.

[5] This is a reference to investments and subsidies from the Chinese authorities to Tibetan areas such as infrastructure, electricity, water provision, and also reductions on tax for some nomadic people, and education, since accelerated development policies were instituted in Tibetan areas from the time of the Western Development Strategy in 1999-2000. This could also refer to loans from local authorities or relocation and settlement of nomads. For further information see ICT’s publication ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon’.

[6] The literal translation is ‘dishonest’ or ‘bad faith’.

[7] Tibetans in rural and urban areas often rely on loans, and also monasteries for renovation or essential costs.

[8] This is a new tactic in which to attempt to enforce local officials and others in positions of authority to compel compliance. For promotion and to keep their posts, local cadres rely upon the relationships between county, prefectural and provincial authorities with the Party state in Beijing.

[9] This means that farmland registered in the name of the self-immolator, or section of pasture if they were a nomad, will be confiscated by the authorities. Although the Chinese Communist Party asserts its ownership over all Tibetan land, since land reforms took place in the 1980s, many Tibetan farmers and nomads have registration documentation of the land they use. But as this ruling in Dzoege shows, this can be withheld by the local authorities for political or other reasons at any time.

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