China has boosted security deployment and restricted communication in towns in the western Sichuan province after the tenth case of self-immolation protest by Tibetans in recent weeks.
A monk in the predominantly-Tibetan town of Garze in Sichuan set himself on fire outside a monastery on Tuesday, several overseas Tibetan groups reported.
Most of the nine other self-immolation attempts occurred in the nearby prefecture of Aba, home to the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Kirti. Among them was a nun, Tenzin Wangmo. At least five of them have died because of their injuries, according to reports in the Chinese media.
Since the immolations, China has boosted deployment of military and paramilitary forces in Aba and nearby towns, according to several Tibetans from Sichuan who are now living in Beijing.
Speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, they said restrictions had been placed on telephone communication and access to the Internet in Aba. Many residents in Aba, they said, had been unable to make telephone calls in recent weeks.
They said security had been boosted in Aba and nearby towns, with additional deployments of People's Armed Police Force (PAPF) battalions, increased street-level security checks, more regular patrolling and restrictions on people travelling in and out of the region.
On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said inciting people to such acts of violence was illegal.
“In the wake of the incidents, overseas Tibet independent forces and the Dalai group did not criticise the cases,” she said at a briefing last week. “On the contrary, they beautified, played up such issues to incite more people to follow suit. Such splittist activities at the cost of human lives is violence and terrorism in disguise.”
Thubten Samphel, a spokesperson for the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, has denied that the Tibetan religious leader had incited the incidents, stressing that the Dalai Lama regarded self-immolation as a form of violence. He said the monks were attempting to protest and bring attention to China's religious policies, which many monks consider restrictive. Monks are not allowed to worship the Dalai Lama in many monasteries in China.
The Global Times , a newspaper run by the Communist Party of China, said in an editorial the Dalai Lama “should take moral responsibility” for the incidents, and blamed the unrest on a small group of monks who were “nostalgic” about older Tibet.
“The Dalai Lama group still endeavours to prove the old system integrating religion with politics can be continued in modern society,” the newspaper said. “They deny the position of secular life in the Tibetan region, and encourage monks to chase the supremacy of religion.”
Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet scholar at the University of Westminster in London, said the incidents reflected “frustration with increased securitisation of every aspect of religious and secular life in Tibetans areas”, which was not limited to monks alone.
The incidents, he said, could have a bearing on the ongoing talks between the Communist Party of China's United Front Work Department and the Dalai Lama's representatives.
The two sides have, so far, held nine rounds of talks, most recently in February 2010. While the Dalai Lama has called for greater autonomy in religious, cultural and educational areas for Tibetans, China has accused the Tibetan religious leader of continuing to support “splittist” activities.
“These protests will make China nervous in making any concession for that may be interpreted as the protests being effective,” said Mr. Anand.
Fear of restrictions
Some Tibetans in China fear the incidents, while highlighting the grievances of many, could ultimately end up being counterproductive by resulting in increased security restrictions on Tibetans, as was the case following riots in Lhasa in March 2008.
“After the riots, Tibetans could not travel easily,” said one Tibetan in Beijing who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal from the authorities.
“It was difficult to find work,” he said. “We could not even rent apartments [in Beijing]. We do not want a return to that situation.”