Tibetan monks continue to protest against the detention in a military camp of a large number of monks from the Kirti monastery in the Sichuan province of China ever since the self-immolation in March last of a young monk of the monastery in support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and in condemnation of the repressive Chinese rule in the Tibetan areas.
The monks have been detained in a military camp that has been compared by the Tibetans to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba started by the US post-9/11 for detaining Al Qaeda suspects. The Chinese have described the centre as a re-education camp and have repeatedly rejected pleas from international human rights organisations for permission to visit the camp.
The Chinese have also imposed humiliating restrictions on the observance of religious practices in the Kirti monastery by those who have not been arrested and detained in the camp.
Reports from Tibetan sources indicate that in recent days there have been two more instances of self-immolation and one instance of attempted self-immolation by young monks belonging to the monastery in protest against the camp and in support of His Holiness.
The latest instance took place on October 3, 2011, when Kalsang Wangchuk, an 18-year-old monk from the Kirti monastery in the mountainous Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, set fire to himself near a vegetable market in the Ngaba town. He was reportedly carrying a photograph of His Holiness.
The police and the fire-brigade intervened and put out the flames. The local people have alleged that after putting out the fire, the police beat him up and forcibly dispersed a large number of people who had gathered in the area to protest against his being beaten up. It is not known what happened to him subsequently.
The attempted self-immolation of October 3 came in the wake of another anti-Chinese protest during the week-end in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the same province after a photo of His Holiness and a huge Tibetan flag were removed by the police from a building and thrown into the street.
On September 26, two young monks below 20 years of age belonging to the same monastery — Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchog — self-immolated before the police intervened. It has been reported that Lobsang Kalsang is the brother of Phuntsog, a 21-year-old monk also from the Kirti monastery who died after setting himself on fire in March, which led to the subsequent wave of protests. There was another incident of self-immolation in August.
The Chinese police have started arresting and prosecuting on a charge of abetment to suicide friends and associates of monks committing self-immolation and bystanders who do not intervene to prevent incidents of self-immolation. Despite this, protests through self-immolation continue.
Leaflets warning the Chinese of more attempts at self-immolation have been circulating in the area for the last few days.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies