The self-immolation of seven Tibetans since November 26, 2012, highlights the failure of Chinese authorities to address Tibetan grievances, Human Rights Watch said. Increasingly pervasive and punitive security measures in response to protests have exacerbated the situation in Tibetan areas of China.
A total of 89 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009, almost all of whom shouted slogans or left statements calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, Tibetan freedom, relaxation of religious and cultural policy, and related issues. In 2012, 76 Tibetans self-immolated, including 27 in November. Of the 89, 74 died, 7 reportedly survived, and the condition of 6 is unknown.
“Self-immolation is an act of complete desperation to bring attention to the plight of Tibetans,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of stepping up repression and driving people to believe there is no hope of change, Beijing needs to take steps to respond to Tibetans’ grievances.”
The central government has authorized increasingly aggressive moves against both individual Tibetans and Tibetan communities where immolations have taken place, Human Rights Watch said. Since late October, officials have responded to immolations by punishing the families and communities of protestors, characterizing immolations as criminal offenses, arresting those associated with immolators, and by deploying paramilitary forces and restricting communications and travel in areas where immolations have occurred.
Although the Chinese leadership in March said that the immolators were “innocents,” officials this month described these protests as “ugly and evil acts intended to achieve the separatist goal of Tibetan independence,” and as “used by the Dalai group to incite unrest in an attempt to split the nation.”
Qinghai and Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) officials have in recent weeks employed forms of collective punishment to discourage immolations. On November 14, after five self-immolations in their area in a week, officials in Huangnan (Malho in Tibetan) prefecture in Qinghai ordered the cancellation of all “benefits received by the households of self-immolators under public benefit policies” and announced that “all projects running on state funds in self-immolators’ villages must be stopped.” The officials extended those cancellations to any families, monks, or monasteries who take part in “instances of greeting and making contributions to family members of self-immolators,” and ordered criminal investigations to begin against any “laypeople and monks who organized to greet family members” of immolators (see appendix for full statement).
The use of collective punishment is contrary to international human rights law, and in these instances infringe on the rights to freedom of religion and belief, Human Rights Watch said.
Similarly broad punishments have been imposed in Lhasa, the capital of TAR, since a May 27 double immolation. As a direct result of those immolations, the authorities have since banned all Tibetans who reside outside the TAR from entering the region without written police guarantees.
In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, police have indicated that self-immolations are being treated as a criminal offense.
According to press reports, after four immolations in October 2012, the prefectural police in Gannan (Ganlho in Tibetan), Gansu province, issued a notice offering rewards of up to 50,000 yuan (approximately US$7,900) for information on “the sources of scheming, planning, and instigating” of immolations and offered 20,000 yuan (US$3,150) for information leading to those supposed to have planned the protests.
The authorities have also arrested Tibetans apparently for involvement in helping immolators plan or carry out their protests. A local source reported that on October 6, four Buddhist monks from Dokar monastery in Gannan, Gansu province, were detained apparently “for taking care of the body” of an immolator and for taking photos of the body. Four monks from Zilkar monastery in Chenduo (Trindu in Tibetan) county, Yushu prefecture, Qinghai province, were detained on September 1 and later sentenced to up to two years in prison, apparently for involvement in a small protest on February 8.
Both sets of arrests were carried out by large numbers of armed police in riot gear who surrounded and raided the monasteries.