The number of Tibetans in China who have set themselves on fire to protest Beijing's rule has reached 100, according to Tibetan advocacy groups.
Tibetans-in-exile hold a candlelight vigil following the self-immolation attempt by a monk in Kathmandu on February 13, 2013
Lobsang Namgyal, a 37-year-old former monk, set himself on fire earlier this month in Aba prefecture, known in Tibetan as Ngaba, an ethnically Tibetan area of the Chinese province of Sichuan, according to Free Tibet, a London-based advocacy group. "This grim milestone should be a source of shame to the Chinese authorities who are responsible and to the world leaders who have yet to show any leadership in response to the ongoing crisis in Tibet," said Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet.
Self-immolation has become a desperate form of protest in recent years for ethnic Tibetans unhappy with Chinese rule, and it shows no sign of abating. Of the 100 Tibetans who have now set themselves on fire in China, at least 82 are believed to have died from the act, according to the International Campaign for Tibet. Lobsang Namgyal died at the scene, and his body was removed by local authorities, who cremated it and returned the ashes to his family. The advocacy group said it had taken 10 days to confirm his self-immolation, which took place February 3, "because Tibetans are too frightened of Chinese state reprisals to speak about protests."
Independently verifying the reported self-immolations inside China is often difficult because of restrictions on reporting from the restive areas and the reluctance of local officials to comment on the accounts provided by foreign groups such as Free Tibet. Local authorities in Aba declined to comment on the case on Thursday, and the Chinese foreign ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Self-immolation began as a form of protest among Tibetans in China in February 2009, when a young monk set himself on fire in Aba.
In March 2011, another young monk followed in his footsteps, becoming the first to die. Scores of others have since followed suit, with the frequency of the self-immolations increasing significantly last year. Several other Tibetans have carried out self-immolations in other countries, including India. And on Wednesday, a Tibetan man set himself on fire in front of a famous Buddhist shrine in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, police said. The man later died of his injuries while undergoing treatment in a hospital, police spokesman Keshav Adhikari said Thursday.
Sandwiched between China and India, Nepal is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees. Many of the Tibetans who cross the Himalayan border from China into Nepal eventually make their way to India, where the Tibetan government in exile is based. But Tibetan refugees in Nepal have claimed the Chinese government officials are pressuring their Nepalese counterparts to make the country less hospitable to Tibetans. Beijing has taken a tough line on Tibetan self-immolators and their associates inside China, accusing the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, of fomenting unrest.
Last month, a court in southwestern China gave heavy sentences to two ethnic Tibetans convicted of murder for "inciting" people to set themselves on fire. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, has long denied China's assertion that he's seeking Tibetan independence. He says he wants only enough autonomy to protect its traditional Buddhist culture. Beijing rejects accusations of oppression, saying that under its rule, living standards have greatly improved for the Tibetan people. It makes centuries-old historical claims on the region.