China detains monks for ‘inciting’ self-immolations

December 11, 2012 12:43 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:12 pm IST - BEIJING

Chinese officials have accused the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala of “inciting” self-immolations, with authorities detaining a Tibetan monk and his nephew in the Kirti monastery of Aba in southwestern Sichuan province over their roles in the protests.

Local police in Aba county said a 40-year-old monk at the Kirti monastery, named Lorang Konchok, was detained along with his nephew “for their roles in inciting a series of self-immolations”, the official Xinhua news agency reported. Konchok had “goaded eight people to set themselves on fire, three of whom died, since 2009”, Xinhua quoted a police statement as saying, alleging that he “acted on the instructions of the Dalai Lama and his followers”.

The exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala in a statement on Monday issued in response to the Xinhua report said it “invites the Chinese authorities to send an investigative team to Dharamsala, India, to prove their assertion that the self-immolations are incited by the Central Tibetan Administration and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”

“If China genuinely wishes to end the self-immolations, instead of resorting to the blame game it should allow unfettered access to international bodies to Tibetan areas to investigate the root causes for these self-immolations,” said Lobsang Sangay, the “Sikyong”, or political leader, of the exiled administration in Dharamsala.

State media on Tuesday published commentaries attacking Dharamsala for the self-immolations. “In Dharamsala, headshots and names of the self-immolators are printed on big banners which are then hung in the streets,” a commentary in the Global Times said. “They are revered as heroes who sacrifice themselves for the unity and solidarity of Tibetans.” The commentary added that China’s authorities had said “anyone who organises, directs, plots and assists others in self-immolation can face criminal charges, including intentional homicide.”

Lian Xiangmin, director of the government-run Institute of Contemporary Tibetan Studies, told the newspaper “the current Dalai Lama has never prevented people from self-immolation”. “Instead, he encourages these extreme actions. This fully illustrates his group’s political purpose, putting pressure on Chinese central government, even at the price of other people’s lives. In response to these self-immolation cases, we must step up the publicity efforts and make more people understand the Dalai group’s sinister intentions.”

The Dalai Lama has strongly denied Chinese accusations. The Tibetan spiritual leader has called for an international fact-finding mission to establish the roots of Tibetans’ grievances. In an interview with The Hindu in July, he said it was best for him to remain neutral on the issue, suggesting that criticising the protests would hurt the sensitivities of the families of protesters, and urged Beijing to“not pretend that nothing is wrong” with its policies.

The Xinhua report said Konchok, the Kirti monk, had taken “advantage of his position and influence in the monastery and often encouraged others to self-immolate, telling local monks and followers that self-immolation was not against Buddhist doctrines and those who did it were ‘heroes’”.

Konchok and his 31-year-old nephew, the report said, would “take pictures and promise to pass the information on to India” when someone had agreed to carry out a protest. The report added that police would “step up their work and crack down on such criminal acts, as inciting and convincing innocent people to burn themselves to death are not in line with the law”.

More than a dozen current and former monks at Kirti have set themselves on fire since 2009, when the spate of Tibetan self-immolations first began when a monk in his twenties at Kirti called Tapey set himself on fire in February of that year.

Only on Saturday, another monk in Aba, named Konchok Pelgye (24), set himself on fire outside the main assembly hall of the Taksang Lhamo Kirti monastery, to become the 94th Tibetan to carry out a self-immolation protest in China. A day later, a 95th case was reported when a 17-year-old girl named Wangcheng Kyi died in Rebkong, a famous monastery town in Qinghai province, which borders Sichuan.

While Chinese authorities have alleged that all the 95 cases were planned by separatist groups, dozens of ordinary Tibetans outside monastery towns such as Kirti have also set themselves on fire to protest Chinese policies in recent months, from a young student in a Gansu town to farmers in Qinghai.

In recent months, China has deployed a blanket of security forces in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to stem the tide of protests. Authorities have alternated between tightening security measures in monasteries and calling on provincial authorities to boost development as they have grappled with a response to the protests.

In Gannan, a prefecture in Gansu province close to Aba where three immolations were reported in November following four other protests in October, police authorities have offered rewards of 50,000 Yuan for information on “the sources of scheming, planning and instigating” immolations, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In the Huangnan prefecture of Qinghai, following five self-immolations that took place near the monastery town of Rebkong (or Tongren in Chinese), local authorities ordered the cancellation of social welfare benefits received by households of the immolators and all projects running on state funds in villages where protests were reported, HRW reported citing a government order.

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