BEIJING — Chinese authorities are responding to an intensified wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule by clamping down even harder – criminalizing the suicides, arresting protesters’ friends and even confiscating thousands of satellite TV dishes.
The harsh measures provide an early indication that the country’s new leadership is not easing up on Tibet despite the burning protests and international condemnation.
For months, as Tibetans across western China doused themselves in gasoline and set themselves alight, authorities responded by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, but those efforts did not stop or slow the protests. The self-immolations even accelerated in November as China’s ruling Communist Party held a pivotal leadership transition.
Then the government went on the offensive in December, announcing through a state-owned newspaper that the burnings are the work of foreign hostile forces keen on separating Tibet from the mainland and that those who help others self-immolate are liable to be prosecuted for murder. Arrests quickly followed.
“Tibet is getting into the global evening news because of self-immolations and so there’s this anxiety to bring it under control,” said Michael Davis, a law professor and Tibet expert at the University of Hong Kong. Davis said he expected the government to continue to take a repressive and conservative approach. “The new leadership will be particularly anxious not to have any of these problems blow up in their face.”
Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009, calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
“I think self-immolations and all of this suggest that they are not winning the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people and in fact the more repressive they are, the more resistance they encounter, so it’s a kind of vicious circle,” Davis said.
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