Foreign media is reporting that an exiled Tibetan monk has set himself on fire in a Kathmandu restaurant on Wednesday, becoming the 100th person to protest against Chinese rule over Tibet since 2009. He was, however, the first case of self-immolation by Tibetans in Nepal.
The Chinese government has done its best to contain news about self-immolations in Tibet, controlling foreign presence in the area, as well as punishing protestors.
According to AFP, police spokesman Keshav Adhikari said that, at 8:20 a.m. local time, “a man in his early 20s went straight to the toilet and poured petrol over his body and set himself alight.”
The official said the unidentified man, who has since been sent to a hospital in critical condition, was able to run to the foot of a nearby stupa, a Buddhist structure, before police were able to put out the flames.
Kathmandu is home to an estimated 20,000 Tibetans, some of whom are also activists, protesting against what they see as China’s oppression of Tibetans' rights and traditional culture. China occupied and annexed Tibet in 1949.
The Tibetan government is currently in exile, in an Indian town located in the foothills of the Himalayas, Dharamshala. By the government's own count, 99 self-immolations have occurred since 2009, 83 of which ended in the death of the protester.
Speaking before the latest immolation occurred, the prime minister of the exiled government, Lobsang Sangay, appealed to the international community.
“Because there is no freedom of speech or outlet for any form of protest, unfortunately Tibetans have chosen self-immolations. To the international community, I say, ‘Stand up for Tibetans.’ The Chinese government has completely militarized the Tibetan area,” Sangay said, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Most of the recorded self-immolations have occurred in various areas of China, such as Qinghai and Gansu, where not only Tibetan monks set themselves ablaze, but even local farmers and students too.
Over the past six months, a spate of self-immolations surrounding important national events has occurred. Ahead of last November’s National Party Congress meeting in Beijing, when Xi Jinping stepped into the role of president of the governing Communist Party, cases of self-immolation were hushed by the Chinese government.
China’s government has an unwavering stance on Tibetan self-immolation cases. Senior officials continue to reject meetings with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, citing his “separatist ideas” as the driving force that divides China and Tibet.
Despite already strong government presence in Tibetan areas, increased measures to prevent self-immolations have been introduced late last year. A state-run local newspaper in Gansu province confirmed that self-immolators and their supporters would be charged with murder in Chinese courts.
Most recently, China’s state-run television station CCTV released a documentary that suggested self-immolators were being inspired to protest because of the media attention and martyr status that they would receive, citing specifically Voice of America’s coverage. “Without citing any evidence, CCTV also accused a VOA broadcast of using secret code to send instructions to people inside Tibet at the direction of the Dalai Lama,” the VOA said. The broadcaster, which is financed by the U.S. government, refuted all allegations, calling them “totally false.”