October 19, 2011

Tibet: Spread of Self-Immolation Raise Fears of Deeper Crackdowns

After the recent self-immolation of the first Buddhist nun in latest of a string of recent and desperate protests, monks opposing the practice fear for their safety as Beijing’s military presence grows ever more present in monasteries.

Below is an article by Independent Online:

Tibetan Buddhist monks in China say a wave of self-immolations is linked to Beijing's refusal to engage with the Dalai Lama, and fear the protests will make their lives even more difficult.

A Buddhist nun who called for religious freedom as she burned to death this week became the first woman and the ninth Tibetan to set fire to herself in south-west China in recent months, marking a dramatic escalation of the protest.

Self-immolations by Tibetans have until recently been rare and experts say the practice - condemned in the past by their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama - goes against Buddhist ideas on the sanctity of life.

Monks interviewed by AFP at a monastery in Hongyuan county in south-west China after the nun's death on Monday [17 Oct. 2011] linked the recent unrest to Beijing's refusal to engage the Dalai Lama in meaningful dialogue.

Hongyuan in south-west China's Sichuan province neighbours Aba county, home to the huge Kirti monastery, which has become a flashpoint for Tibetan Buddhists' anger over what they say is the erosion of their culture.

Kirti monastery has been under virtual lockdown since a young monk named Phuntsog set light to himself in March, sparking mass protests that led to a police crackdown.

“The Dalai Lama is the biggest difficulty for all Tibetans,” said a monk at the monastery. “Tibetans long to see the Dalai Lama. Many people fear that this will not be possible. This is what is causing the problems in Kirti monastery.”

The monk, who AFP is not naming out of concern for his safety, said many at his monastery opposed the use of self-immolation, and were hoping that such actions would not bring further trouble to other Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

“Those monks should not be engaging in self-immolation, this is not right. But they have a different view of this,” said the monk, aged in his thirties.

“We fear that their actions will bring trouble to our monastery. Now we don't know what will happen or what the authorities will do. We just have to watch out for our own safety.”

The comments highlight the pressure on monks and nuns in China's vast Tibetan areas, where rights groups say authorities have been cracking down since 2008 riots in Tibet.

The United States this week called on China to respect the rights of Tibetans and protect their “unique religious culture”, saying it was seriously concerned about a series of self-immolations by Buddhist monks.

Campaign group Free Tibet said the nun's death came a day after security forces shot and wounded two Tibetans during a weekend protest in another part of Sichuan.

Lobsang Sangay, the new prime minister of the exiled Tibetan government, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the “repressive policies of the Chinese” were the root cause of the immolations.

But he said his administration did not support self-immolation as a form of protest, fearing possible reprisals from the Chinese authorities on the Tibetan community there.

“We do not encourage any form of protest inside Tibet because we know the consequences,” he said.

All the monks interviewed by AFP said they followed closely the words of the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

He later founded the government in exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala after being offered refuge there, and remains revered in China's Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of the country.

Monks in Hongyuan said they supported the Dalai Lama's efforts to bring greater autonomy to Tibetan-inhabited regions in China, and opposed the authorities' vilification of the spiritual leader as a “separatist” who incites violence.

China has held nine rounds of talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys, the last in January 2010.

But the dialogue has yielded no tangible progress, leading many Tibetans to fear Beijing is trying to wait out the 76-year-old monk's death in hopes that his calls for greater rights will wither away without him.

“We support the Dalai Lama and of course we want to see him return to Tibet,” said another monk at a different monastery in Hongyuan. “We want him to come back but we just don't know if he will be able to.”

The expulsion of hundreds of monks from Kirti and the sentencing last month of three monks to between 10 and 13 years in jail for allegedly aiding the suicide attempt also angered many Tibetans, the monk said.

Other monks directly accused China's ruling Communist Party of mishandling Tibet and the issue of the Dalai Lama.

“The Communist Party is no good,” a monk from Aba county who was in Hongyuan told AFP. “The situation is complicated, but monks are committing self-immolation in protest.”

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