That scores of Tibetans have burned themselves alive to protest Chinese rule is not a secret in the West. News outlets all over the world have reported on the self-immolations. But China's state-run news agency said in a story that there have been no cases of self-immolation in the Tibetan region of the nation.
China’s official reaction to the seemingly constant reports of self-immolation has become predictable. Senior officials reject calls to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama; ignore human-rights groups; and handle media coverage by censoring foreign media and social networks.
Now, a new report by a government-backed news agency is addressing self-immolations, but only sort of -- by claiming they do not occur in Tibet and glazing over the many that have been reported in other areas.
According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, “no local residents, monks or nuns in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) have self-immolated so far.”
The report quotes Padma Choling, deputy secretary of the regional committee to the Communist Party of China, as saying “they [Tibetans] cherish life and love the society and the country.”
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There has even been a recent surge of self-immolations among Tibetans across China, and there have been more than 100 reported cases of Tibetans setting themselves ablaze in protest of Chinese rule since 2009.
Though the Xinhua report does not dispute that several cases of self-immolations have occurred -- burying the fact in the last line of the story -- it claims those have happened outside of Tibet and in nearby Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces, to where many Tibetans have migrated.
Shanghai-based news-blog TheShanghaiist.com suggested that China’s government is shifting its response from unrelenting censorship of the incidents by downplaying Tibetan self-immolations by reporting that self-immolations do not actually occur within the TAR.
“Not only would it be a seriously terrible strategy to gloss over the fact that over 100 Tibetans living outside of the TAR have burned themselves to death, the claim that no one has ever self-immolated inside the TAR turns out to be false anyway.”
While a majority of self-immolations do indeed occur outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Xinhua itself reported just last May that two self-immolations had taken place in Lhasa, outside Jokhang Temple, the Tibetan capital's holiest site and a popular tourist destination.
The state-run media outlet reported on the self-immolations of two men identified as Tobgye Tseten and Dargye, according to the AP. Dargye survived with serious injuries and Tobgye Tseten died upon arrival at a nearby hospital. The incidences garnered a lot of media attention because they were the first recorded acts self-immolation in the Tibetan capital and only the second in the TAR as a whole.
The Chinese government continues to blame self-immolation cases on the “immoral and inhumane” Tibetan religious leader in exile, the Dalai Lama, claiming he's responsible for instigating the extreme acts.
Many Tibetans blame China’s government for marginalizing the Tibetan indigenous group and its religious customs.