China Power

Trouble Brewing in Tibet?

Reports that a former monk has set himself on fire is a further sign of the ongoing tensions in Tibet.

A teenage former monk in Tibet has reportedly set himself on fire, the eighth self-immolation this year in what has become an increasingly restive region.

Reuters reports that the 19-year-old former monk at the Kirti monastery in Aba prefecture in China’s Sichuan Province ‘set himself on fire on Saturday, according to Zorgyi, an India-based exiled Tibetan activist, and the London-based Free Tibet group.’

‘The police extinguished the flames and beat the man, the researcher said, adding that he did not die in the course of his protest. His whereabouts are unknown,’ Reuters added.

The latest incident follows a report earlier this week by Human Rights Watch warning that China’s dramatic ramping up of security in the region may actually be exacerbating unrest there.

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According to the group, the Chinese government has imposed ‘drastic restrictions’ on Tibetan monasteries following widespread protests in 2008. ‘These measures include brutal security raids, arbitrary detentions of monks, increased surveillance within monasteries, and a permanent police presence inside monasteries to monitor religious activities.’

‘Security measures designed to curtail the right to free expression, association, and religious belief in Tibetan monasteries are not legitimate,’ said Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson. ‘Even worse, those measures are exacerbating the tensions. Instead, the government should address the region's underlying grievances.’

Human Rights Watch for its part counted six self-immolations this year, excluding Saturday’s reported incident, including Phuntsok Jarutsang, ‘who set himself on fire on March 16 to commemorate the March 2008 uprisings in the region. Security personnel tried to extinguish the flames but also allegedly beat Phuntsok, who died the next day, leading to protests in the following days and weeks by more than 1,000 lay Tibetans and monks.’

These incidents come at a particularly sensitive time, with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama outlining a timeframe for his decision on whether to name a successor. Last month, in a statement on his website, the Dalai Lama said that when he is ‘about 90’ he will consult the ‘high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public, and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism, and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not.’

However, he made it clear that China should have no say in naming his successor. China for its part sees the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist and has criticized world leaders for meeting with him, arguing that to do so is to meddle in China’s internal affairs.

The Dalai Lama says that he isn’t a separatist, and that he is only interested in seeking autonomy for Tibet.