Two Tibetans set themselves on fire in Lhasa
THE wave of 34 self-immolations that has spread across Tibetan areas of China over the past year has reached Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, where two men set themselves on fire on Sunday.
The two men immolated themselves outside the Jokhang temple, a Buddhist shrine in the heart of the city that has been smothered with security officers since its monks took part in anti-Chinese riots four years ago.
The temple is also a point of pilgrimage for Buddhists celebrating Sagadawa, or Vesak, which marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha. In recent days, as many as 5,000 visitors have arrived at the temple each day for the festival.
It is the first recorded self-immolation attempt in Lhasa and only the second protest in the city in the past four years. “All I could infer is that this incident had taken place and that Lhasa is 'seething'. This is certainly a 'line in the sand' that has been crossed for the Chinese, as they have clearly been focused on keeping these protests out of the major cities," said Robbie Barnett, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University.
"China is locked into using force in its response to any incident and so is likely to trigger more of them, and the exile leadership is locked into an ambiguous response in which it cannot show leadership because of its own internal politics. It is an unfolding tragedy.”
Tibetan exiles have suggested that mass arrests are now taking place in the capital.
“The security forces arrived immediately and put out the fire and all the tourists in the area were cordoned off from the site," a witness told Radio Free Asia, a station funded by the United States to promote information and ideas across China and South East Asia. "Within 15 minutes, the area was cleaned and not a trace of the incident was left.”
Xinhua news agency identified the Tibetan who died as Tobgye Tseten from Xiahe county in Gansu province and the other man as Dargye, a Tibetan from Aba county in Sichuan province. The latter was from Aba, in Sichuan province, one of the epicentres of recent unrest. Both men were thought to have lived in Lhasa.
A source in Lhasa confirmed that there had been self-immolations in the city and that a heavy security operation was underway in the city.
One Chinese student sent a message on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, describing extra security checks for vehicles in the city.
The culmination of the Sagadawa festival falls each year on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar. This year, by unhappy coincidence, the day falls on June 4, also the anniversary of the quashing of the Tiananmen Square protests.
For at least two decades, ever since small protests over Sagadawa at the beginning of the 1990s, the Communist party has issued strict orders to its members not to celebrate the festival. Students, cadres or officials caught taking part would find themselves in “serious violation of political discipline and stability work,” said the Tibet Daily. Extra security has also been laid on for the month-long event.
“This is all based on the this extraordinary logic that an incident that has happened once 20 years ago on a certain day might happen again,” said Mr Barnett. “In 1991 or 1992 some nuns protested on Sagadawa. Ever since then the Chinese have made a huge effort to intensify control during this month."
All of the 34 previous self-immolations occurred not in Tibet itself, but in Tibetan-occupied areas of Western China.
Additional reporting by Valentina Luo