China Tightens Control Over Tibet After Unprecedented Self-Immolations

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Yeshi
Tibetan activist and exile Jamphel Yeshi, 27, lies on the ground as fellow protesters attempt to douse the flames. Yeshi set himself on fire to protest the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who met in India with the BRICS nations.

Chinese authorities are tightening their grip over Tibet after an unprecedented number of self-immolations protesting Beijing’s rule.

According to the Global Post newspaper, an estimated 91 Tibetans -- a record -- have set themselves ablaze over the past 18 months in protest of China’s authority over Tibet.  Despite an already strong Chinese government presence in Tibetan regions, media reports are describing increased measures that have been taken to disrupt any separatist activities.

The Washington Post reported that people caught inciting self-immolation will also be charged with murder. Gansu province’s local state-run newspaper confirmed that supporters of such activities would be charged with murder in Chinese courts.

“A joint legal opinion issued by China’s supreme court, top prosecution body and police said the charge of 'intentional murder' should apply to anyone urging Tibetans to set themselves alight,” the report said.

Reuters reported that other preventive measures have also been taken. For instance, Chinese authorities have seized televisions from 300 monasteries in the Tibetan regions of western China and have dismantled satellite dishes that allegedly broadcast “anti-China” programming.

Such efforts by the government have also included increased police patrolling and the blocking of “harmful information.”

When prodded about the recent increased surveillance, local officials remain aloof.

An official from Huangnan prefecture -- where five self-immolations have occurred -- claimed he was not aware of the new reports of confiscated televisions.

Huangnan officials have taken the responsibility of “guiding public opinion on the Dalai [Lama] issue,” by strengthening measures to “fully fight the special battle against self-immolations,” as local state-run Qinghai news agency reported.

Restrictions on foreign presence in the area, especially members of the media, are yet another measure officials are taking to discourage self-immolation. Though reporting out of Tibet has always been difficult, the Associated Press says that additional checkpoints are being set up to keep foreigners out of the area.

Additionally, Qinghai province, where Huangnan is located, has been ordered to monitor the purchases of inflammable goods by residents.

Chinese officials have also taken to countering separatist propaganda with even more propaganda by organizing campaigns condemning self-immolation and continuing to publicly blame the Dalai Lama for the unrest and disruption in the area.

However, it is understood among Tibetans that they are protesting against what they see as the erasure of their cultural heritage by the Chinese.

Most recently, a spate of self-immolation occurred in November around the time of China’s huge National Congress meeting in Beijing where the nation’s future president, Xi Jinping, was officially unveiled. The Beijing government went to great lengths to diffuse news of the self-immolation in Tibet as both national and international attention was focused on China.

Demonstrations -- and self-immolations – as well as China’s reaction to such incidents have become predictable. Senior officials continue to reject calls to meet with Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and ignore human-rights groups that criticize how the government handles the tumultuous Chinese-Tibetan relationship.

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