With the most recent self-immolation on March 24, 2013, there have been 111 Tibetans confirmed to have self-immolated in different Tibetan areas since February 27, 2009.
A common demand of self-immolators has been the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet and freedom for the Tibetan people. They are challenging political, cultural, religious and social injustices, the roots of which are not being acknowledged and addressed by the Chinese authorities.
Instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the Tibetan people, the Chinese authorities have responded to the self-immolations by increasing restrictions, torturing members of the self-immolators’ family or their acquaintances and taking several into custody without any judicial process. These stringent restrictions will only increase the sense of injustice and discrimination felt by Tibetans. As long as Tibetans continue to be denied the opportunity to live a life of equality, respect and dignity, it is clear that they will undertake actions to convey their feelings.
Chinese officials have also sought to deflect blame by humiliating the Tibetans, declaring the self-immolators to be criminals and saying their actions were instigated by ‘the Dalai clique.’ They also attempted to minimize the political significance of these actions.
Chinese leaders seek stability in Tibet, but they strive to achieve it through an iron fist rather than an outstretched hand. These hard-line measures are having the opposite effect, sowing instability exemplified in acts of protest, defiance, and self-immolation.
In his visit to Washington last year, Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay (the political leader of the Tibetan government in exile), told a reporter that, “If Tibet is granted autonomy, that could be a catalyst for moderation of China because if the Chinese government grants autonomy to Tibetans, for the first time they are accepting diversity within and accepting a distinct if not different people. I think no system which is authoritarian, or one-party rule, can last long. Ultimately, other people have to be taken into consideration, have to be empowered and respected by the system, because universality of freedom is established now.”
Tibet is a loss-leader for Beijing. Some 90 percent of the budget of the Tibet Autonomous Region comes as subsidies from the central government. In 2011, Human Rights Watch reported that Chinese security spending in the Aba Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province was “five times the average spent per person on public security in non-Tibetan areas in Sichuan.” Alternatively, if Chinese leaders were to give Tibetans a voice in their own affairs and a stake in their own future, through genuine autonomy, Tibetan areas could be more economically self-sustaining.
Video of Tibet’s 100th self-immolation in protest against Chinese rule…