September 28, 2011

Tibet: Self-Immolations Lead to New Media Blackout

After two teenage monks set fire to themselves in peaceful protest against China’s religious repression, Chinese officials have blocked internet and cell service in the area surrounding the monastery to which they belong.  This incident follows a summer of self-immolations and major protests in the region.

Below is an article published by Agence France Presse:

Police have cut Internet services and blocked roads near a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in southwest China where two monks set themselves alight in a call for religious freedom, according to witnesses.

Authorities in Sichuan province's Aba county also ordered groups of more than six people together to break up in apparent attempts to prevent protests, and mobile phones could not send or receive text messages, locals said.

The two young monks cried "long live the Dalai Lama" as they set themselves on fire Monday [26 September 2011] at the Kirti monastery, scene of repeated protests against religious repression, rights groups have said.

Both were reported to have survived and been taken to hospital, but earlier self-immolations by monks at the same monastery have triggered major protests, and local residents reported a heavy police presence on Tuesday [27 September 2011].

"The roads to Aba county have been sealed, police officers are everywhere on the streets," one man reached by telephone at a local pharmaceutical company told AFP.

"People in Aba county can't send or receive SMS messages and the Internet is not accessible now."

A Tibetan reached by AFP at the Zhufeng Hotel in Aba said no tourists had been allowed to enter the county since Monday afternoon. "Many police are patrolling the streets," he added.

Many Tibetans in China are angry about what they view as increasing domination by the country's majority Han ethnic group.

China, however, says that Tibetan living standards have improved with billions in Chinese investment.

One of the two monks who set themselves ablaze was believed to be the brother of Phuntsog, a 20-year-old Kirti monk whose self-immolation in March [2011] led to protests and a major security crackdown in the area.

The official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday [26 September 2011] that the two monks had been "rescued" and taken to the county's hospital, where they were being treated for burns.

However, one witness contacted by AFP said one of the monks appeared to have suffered very serious injuries and was "unlikely to have survived".

The International Campaign for Tibet, a rights group with offices in the United States and Europe, said one of the monks may have died before being taken away, citing exile sources that said both were around 18 years old.

The latest protest followed the death of 29-year-old Tsewang Norbu, who set fire to himself and called for freedom at another Sichuan monastery last month [August 2011].

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