On 3 November 2011, Palden Choetso, a 35-year-old Tibetan nun, covered herself in petrol in front of Tawu nunnery, in eastern Tibet (Sichuan Province of China), and set herself on fire.
Since March 2011, at least 13 Tibetan nuns, monks and former monks have self-immolated to express their despair at the growing crackdown by Chinese authorities against their people. Seven of them, including Palden Choetso, have subsequently died. Others have been arrested, taken away, and have since disappeared and their current condition remains unknown.
For Tibetans, self-immolation is a very severe sacrifice that reveals their level of despair as they believe that committing suicide has a devastating impact on the cycle of re-incarnations and may even put them back 500 lifetimes.
The Chinese government must address the underlying causes of these protests instead of resorting to ever more heavy-handed tactics such as mass arrests, imprisonment, and even killings by the security forces. Those arrested include 300 monks from Kirti monastery, who the authorities said were taken away for “patriotic education”.
The compulsory political indoctrination that Tibetan monks and nuns undergo as part of these programs infringes violently on their freedom of expression and the exercise of their religious freedom. It is combined with a heavy presence of security forces in and around religious institutions, laying a real siege to monasteries. Machine gun-toting Chinese soldiers are beating and disappearing monks, and even killing elderly people defending them. Access to the region is severely restricted to prevent an overall assessment of the level of human rights violations.
It is urgent to put an end to these repressive policies that infringe on Tibetans’ fundamental freedoms, including their rights to practice their religion and to enjoy their culture, which are enshrined in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government must accept the long-standing offer by the Dalai Lama to engage in dialogue and finally heed the demands of Tibetans.