You may flip through the Tibet Press Watch below or download the entire issue as a PDF.
In this issue
- Letter from the President
- Blog: The Dalai Lama Outlines His Master Plan (By: Bhuchung Tsering)
- Understanding the Self-Immolations: A Timeline
- The International Response
Letter from the President
Dear Friend of Tibet,
This edition of the Tibet Press Watch focuses on the self-immolations in Tibet. Since Tapey, a young monk from Kirti monastery in eastern Tibet, set himself ablaze in February 2009, there have been 16 additional self-immolations in Tibet.
These acts of protest have been remarkable in their extreme nature, but they represent a continuum of resistance against Chinese policies that effectively rob Tibetans of every other form of self-determination.
We are confronted at once by the tragedy and the strength of these acts, and we are compelled to reach. I believe the self-immolations wish to provoke an international reaction that moves China to back off its heavy-handed policies in Tibet and allow the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet.
During a recent memorial for the great Czech freedom fighter Václav Havel, my thoughts kept drifting back to the Tibetans who are sacrificing their lives for the cause of freedom in their own land.
So much of what Havel communicated about the struggle against Communist Czechoslovakia was intended to be universal in its experience and application, whether his writings on ‘the power of the powerless’ or ‘living in truth.’
In an essay, “Politics and Conscience,” written by Havel more than a quarter century ago, he embraces the notion of transcendent power, based on truth:
“…I think that is an experience of an essential and universal importance—that a single, seemingly powerless person who dares to cry out the word of truth and to stand behind it with all his person and all his life, ready to pay a high price, has surprisingly great power…”
The Tibetans who have self-immolated are challenging the Chinese party state and, indeed, all of us, to see their individual self-sacrifice as a means of discerning the truth in Tibet. And so our work at the International Campaign for Tibet goes beyond reporting on the self-immolations to raising the consciousness of those who are the intended audiences of the Tibetan self-immolators.
We are pleased that the United States government has been swift and direct in its response and appears to be leading an unambiguous international call for China to change course in Tibet.
At the same time, we are dismayed that the Chinese government chooses to respond with brute force in Tibet and with the tired accusations that foreign governments are meddling in its internal affairs. The articles reproduced in this Tibet Press Watch should give you a good sense of the international response.
I hope you will remember too that each of the men and women who set themselves ablaze is an individual with friends and family, and a unique personal store. We should get to know them as best we can, and we invite you to visit our website for this purpose.
There is so much that you can do to be a part of our work for Tibet—and you can also find ways to take action on our website.
Our obvious task right now is to share the truth of the self-immolations in Tibet. Please turn to page 15 to make a personal effort to help ICT spread the word. Thank you.
Mary Beth Markey
Blog: The Dalai Lama Outlines His Master Plan
By: Bhuchung TseringOn September 24, 2011, the fourteenth Dalai Lama made yet another statement that will have great impact on the future direction of the institution that he represents. I am of course referring to his statement about the evolution of the Dalai Lama institution and the reincarnation system.
Through a succinct explanation of historical development, His Holiness has outlined his decisive role in matters relating to the next Dalai Lama. As expected, the Chinese Government has taken this personal with its spokesman asserting on September 26, 2011 that only it that had the authority. In general, recognition of reincarnation is a spiritual process in which temporal leadership had at best only marginal roles.
The September 24 statement … is about the future of Tibetan Buddhism and the role of the Dalai Lama in it. The present Dalai Lama’s master plan, if I dare to think aloud, is to institutionalize a system whereby the essence of the Tibetan Buddhist culture is understood by Tibetan Buddhists as well as others; and to create the necessary space so that this culture that can contribute greatly to the development of the world civilization can be preserved and promoted.
Delinking the institution of the Dalai Lama from a purely Tibetan political system is a step in line with his objectives. His September 24, 2011 statement says, “If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust.” The Gaden Phodrang Trust is a reference to the formalization of the office that is currently the “Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama.”
Given that the Chinese Government uses religious institutions to serve its political ends and given the central role of the Dalai Lamas in Tibetan spiritual life, the statement categorically says, “Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.”
China needs to understand that recognition of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism is different from selecting a Party Secretary or priest for a Church, or even an abbot for a Buddhist monastery.
However, it is my contention that while this statement very much concerns the role of the present Dalai Lama in his next incarnation, it is also a reflection of the vision that he has for the future of Tibetan Buddhism.
An Excerpt from Hi Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Statement on the Issue of His Reincarnation
…Reincarnation is a phenomenon which should take place either through the voluntary choice of the concerned person or at least on the strength of his or her karma, merit and prayers. Therefore, the person who reincarnates has sole legitimate authority over where and how he or she takes rebirth and how that reincarnation is to be recognized. It is a reality that no one else can force the person concerned, or manipulate him or her. It is particularly inappropriate for Chinese communists, who explicitly reject even the idea of past and future lives, let alone the concept of reincarnate Tulkus, to meddle in the system of reincarnation and especially the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen lamas. Such brazen meddling contradicts their own political ideology and reveals their double standards. Should this situation continue in the future, it will be impossible for Tibetans and those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to acknowledge or accept it.
When I am about ninety I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the Fifteenth Dalai Lama to be recognized, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Gaden Phodrang Trust. They should consult the various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath-bound Dharma Protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with past tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in Mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognized through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance should be given to a candidate chosen for political ends by anyone, including those in the People’s Republic of China.
Understanding the Self-Immolations: A Timeline
In 2008, spontaneous protests ignited across Tibet, protesting China’s repressive rule and the deliberate subversion of the Tibetan culture and of Tibetan Buddhism. The resulting governmental crack-down has further limited Tibetan freedom. Numerous Tibetans have found their only outlet for protest to be publicly setting themselves on fire—begging the question: How bad do things have to be for self-immolation to be the best alternative?
The International Campaign for Tibet is working to ensure that each Tibetan’s sacrifice is seen and understood as a desperate cry for international support. The following timeline must, for reasons of space, omit the many protests, arrests, and violence visited upon the people of Tibet—from schoolgirls to nuns and monks to laypeople—who have courageously raised their voices in protest.
Feb. 27, 2009
Tapey, a young monk from Kirti monastery, sets himself on fire in protest after prayer ceremonies at Kirti are cancelled. He douses himself with gasoline in the market lights himself on fire while holding a homemade Tibetan flag. He is shot several times by police while engulfed in flames, apparently to stop him from shouting pro-Tibetan slogans. The flames are extinguished and Tapey is removed; destination unknown. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, acknowledge Tapey’s self-immolation but denied police shot him. WELLBEING: Unknown
March 16, 2011
Phuntsog, 20, a Kirti monastery monk, sets himself on fire on the third anniversary of a protest in Kirti in which at least 10 Tibetans were killed. He shouts slogans including “May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live for ten thousand years!” Police extinguish the flames and are seen beating Phuntsog before he dies. WELLBEING: Deceased
In the aftermath, several hundred security personnel are posted to Kirti monastery. Around 300 monks are taken away from the monastery in large trucks to unknown locations for the purpose of “legal education,” and two elderly Tibetans are beaten to death. Three monks are sentenced to prison terms of up to 11 years as “accomplices” in Phuntsog’s death.
Early July, 2011
Authorities in Kardze indicate their alarm over the continuing peaceful actions by Tibetans. Li Dao Ping, the Vice President of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Sichuan province, visited Kardze and says “We should firmly smash separatist activities, firmly protect social stability and make an effort to equally develop all nationalities.”
August 15, 2011
Buddhist monk Tsewang Norbu, 29, drinks gasoline, sets himself on fire, and calls for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Chinese state media confirms his death shortly afterwards, stating: “It was unclear why he had burnt himself.” WELLBEING: Deceased
September 26, 2011
Kirti monastery monks Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Kunchok, both believed to be 18 years old, set themselves on fine while shouting “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama” in a protest in Ngaba. After putting out the flames, police take the two young monks into custody. WELLBEING: Both reportedly hospitalized
October 3, 2011
Kelsang Wangchuk, 17, of Kirti monastery sets himself aflame on Ngaba’s main street. He carries a photo of the Dalai Lama and shouts slogans against the Chinese government. Sources say police surrounded him, extinguished the flames, and beat him before taking him away. He is said to be detained in the county hospital with a head injury from the beatings. WELLBEING: Unknown
Additional security forces are deployed in Ngaba and Kirti. Anonymous pamphlets appear around Kirti monastery stating that if the current security crackdown in the area were to continue, “many more people were prepared to give up their lives.”
October 7, 2011
Two former monks – Choepel, 19, and Kayang, 18 – clasp hands and set fire to themselves on the main road of Ngaba before security personnel extinguish the flames and take them to the government-run hospital. It is not known if the two monks opted to leave the monastery or were expelled by government authorities; they were not wearing monks’ robes when they self-immolated. Chinese media reported they were “slightly injured.” WELLBEING: Both deceased
October 11, 2011
Kirti Rinpoche, the exiled head of Kirti monastery, explains his views on the self-immolation of monks, saying: “With the Chinese government making arbitrary arrests and passing unimaginably harsh sentences on the basis of false representations and allegations, Kirti has been turned into a virtual prison. All the monks, young and old, are subjected day and night to deprivation of all freedoms Internally the monastery’s teaching program is not allowed to function, and externally, Tibetan religion and culture is under such unthinkable repression that it has reached a point of desperation where people would choose to die rather than go on living.”
October 15, 2011
Norbu Damdrul, a former monk from Kirti Monastery, self-immolates in Ngaba. He is badly burned but reportedly alive when police extinguish the flames, kick him, and drive away with him in the opposite direction of the hospital. The large Tibetan crowd of witnesses is dispersed at gunpoint. WELLBEING: Unknown
Kirti monastery is forbidden by authorities to help families of monks who have committed self-immolation, such as prayers for those who have died. Four permanent security police offices are built within the monastery compound. Internet access is cut off.
October 17, 2011
Tenzin Wangmo, 20, from Mame Nunnery in Ngaba, dies after self-immolating at the Sumdo Bridge. As she dies, she calls for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet and for religious freedom. Her body is taken back to the nunnery; authorities demand her body be turned over or buried the same day. The nuns refuse. Soldiers and police cordon off the nunnery and surrounding villages. WELLBEING: Deceased
October 25, 2011
Dawa Tsering, a monk from Kardze Monastery, sets fire to himself and shouted slogans calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet during a religious ceremony attended by hundreds of local people inside the monastery. Monks put out the flames; Chinese police are immediately deployed around and inside the monastery in an apparent stand-off with the monks and lay-people protecting Dawa Tsering from interrogation and detention. WELLBEING: Unknown
November 3, 2011
Palden Choetso, a Tibetan nun, sets fire to herself in Kardze. As her body was burning, she called for the long life and return of of the Dalai Lama. Her sister nuns took her to the nunnery, and she died soon afterwards. Local authorities have locked down the area, closing a major road in Tawu, and deploying troops to the nunnery. WELLBEING: Deceased
December 1, 2011
Tenzin Phuntsog, a former monk in the Tibet Autonomous Region, sets himself on fire to protest dramatic repressions in Chamdo. He was a monk of the Karma monastery in Chamdo, founded in the 12th century by the first Karmapa. Tenzin Phuntsog was reportedly hospitalized after his protest. WELLBEING: Deceased
January 6, 2012
Tsultrim and Tennyi (both around 20 years old) set themselves afire in Ngaba and run into the street calling for the return of and long life for His Holiness. Tennyi is believed to be a monk at Kirti monastery, and Tsultrim may have been expelled from Kirti by Chinese authorities. WELLBEING: Both deceased
January 8, 2012
Sonam Wangyal, believed to be a reincarnated lama, drinks kerosene and lights himself on fire in Amdo. Before his death he writes that he does not “act for my personal glory but for Tibet and the happiness of Tibetans.” WELLBEING: Deceased
As this edition of the Tibet Press Watch went to print we learned of the self-immolation and death of Lobsang Jamyang, 21, on January 14. For the most dependable information on the situation inside Tibet, please visit savetibet.org
NOTE: Please visit ICT’s Self-Immolation Fact Sheet for the most current information »
The International Response
Governments from around the world honor the death of these Tibetans and speak out in protest of China’s repressions.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: We have made very clear our serious concerns about China’s record on human rights. When we see reports of lawyers, artists, and others who are detained or disappeared, the United States speaks up both publicly and privately. We are alarmed by recent incidents in Tibet of young people lighting themselves on fire in desperate acts of protest. We continue to call on China to embrace a different path.
German foreign ministry spokesperson: The federal government is horrified at the rising number of self-immolations in the Tibetan regions of Southwest-China. The foreign office urged China on Friday to shape their policies in a way that existing tensions are relieved. It asked the Dalai Lama – the religious head of the Tibetans – to discourage young monks and nuns from further self-immolations.
Extract from Foreign and Commonwealth Office update regarding Tibet: We understand at least ten monks have now been imprisoned in connection to these [self-immolations]. We have raised these incidents with the Chinese Embassy in London and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. British Embassy officials in China make regular visits to Tibetan areas, and have kept in frequent contact with the Foreign Affairs Office in Sichuan and local Public Security Bureau offices regarding access to these areas.
Michael Danby MP, Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party: The process of eliminating Tibetan culture and the removal of monks and nuns is a direct violation of the freedom of religion. The Australian government is deeply concerned about reports of self-immolations by monks and nuns. Australian officials last week made renewed representations in Canberra and Beijing to their Chinese counterparts about these reports. Our embassy in Beijing has raised our concerns about reports of the continuing crackdown around the monastery and the province and increased security measures in the Tibetan areas. I entreat the Chinese authorities to respect the religious rights of Tibetan monks and to cease their repressive actions against those in the Kirti Monastery.
House of Commons, Ottawa, Canada: From the statements of Canadian members of Parliament: “The desperation of these people has now led to self-immolation acts, an act of desperation for anyone who understands Buddhist religion and culture. This is the sign that things have become a crisis for those in Tibet.” “It is time for the Government of Canada to take a lead in coordinating an international response to condemn the Chinese government’s repressive measures against the Tibetans. Canada should also work to ensure the United Nations to immediately send a fact finding mission to Ngaba to assess the situation. We cannot afford to waste another day.”
Deputy Director of Asia and Pacific Desk, Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (translated by the Tibetan community in Poland): Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the utmost care and concern is watching developments around the Kirti monastery. Particularly moving is information regarding new acts of self-immolation among young Tibetans – their tragic loss of life and are the cause of sincere sorrow of Polish society.
European Parliament resolution on Tibet: The European Parliament condemns the Chinese authorities’ continued crackdown on Tibetan monasteries and calls on them to lift the restrictions and security measures imposed on monasteries and lay communities, restore the lines of communication to the monks of Kirti Monastery, lift the restrictions and heavy-handed security measures imposed on the Kirti Monastery.
Chinese authorities continue to downplay the desperation of the Tibetan people, while an editorial in a Beijing newspaper with ties to the Communist Party blames the Dalai Lama and the West, implying he benefits from the tragedies. The Global Times warns, “China’s Tibetan region has been affected by outrageous political influences under the name of religion. The selfishness and ruthlessness of the Dalai group are carefully packaged by the West [and] the fact is the more self-immolations happen in Tibet, the more comfortable the life of the Dalai group becomes.”
Kelsang Gyaltsen, Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, addressed the European Parliament’s Conference on Autonomy on November 29 to update them on talks between China and the Tibetan government in exile.
“The last round of meeting was held in January 2010. Since then we have repeatedly urged our Chinese counterparts to meet. As recently as about two weeks ago in view of the tragic self-immolations and the overall deteriorating situation in Tibet we urged our counterparts in Beijing to meet as soon as possible in order to explore ways to diffuse and calm the situation in Tibet. We are, however, still waiting for a positive reply.”