An image reportedly of Sunday's self-immolation

An image reportedly of Sunday’s self-immolation(s) in Lhasa that has been circulating on Weibo.

Two young Tibetan men set fire to themselves yesterday (May 27) outside one of Tibet’s holiest shrines, the Jokhang Temple, in the first self-immolation in Lhasa, Tibet’s historic capital. The Chinese state media reported that one of the Tibetans died while another is still alive ( Voice of America Tibetan language service has reported that the two Tibetans, who self-immolated together, worked in a restaurant in Lhasa. They were named by the Chinese news agency Xinhua as Dargye, from Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan (where most of the self-immolations have taken place) and Tobgye Tseten, from Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) in Gansu, the Tibetan area of Amdo.

The self-immolations took place during Saga Dawa, an important religious period for Tibetan Buddhists that commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. The self-immolations are the first in Lhasa where Chinese security has been tight since March 2008 when protests occurred across Tibet and rocked the capital city. The official media reported today that Lhasa’s Public Security Bureau has set up a special task force to investigate the case.

The heightened security presence in Lhasa, which includes a visible military presence in the streets, has been accompanied since 2008 by an intensive ‘political education’ campaign aimed at attacking loyalty to the Dalai Lama and enforcing allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. On May 24, the official newspaper Tibet Daily warned Tibetans that commemorating Saga Dawa this week would be regarded as a “serious violation” of “political discipline and stability work.” (Tibet Daily, Official Chinese notification bans Tibetan participation in religious activities – May 24, translation by Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy).

The Chinese state’s intervention in the everyday religious lives on January 4 of this year, Chinese government or Communist Party officials are being stationed in monasteries permanently and, in some cases, officials will have the senior rank and pay of a deputy director of a provincial-level government department. Thi new policy, announced by Communist Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region Chen Quangguo, was described by the official media as “critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism,” and it aimed to “ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order.” (Human Rights Watch, China: Tibetan Monasteries Placed Under Direct Rule).

With the same objective, but aimed at laypeople, the official media subsequently announced that more than 20,000 cadres and 5,000 work teams had been selected by the Chinese government to stay permanently in different neighborhoods in the Tibet Autonomous Region, with other cadres being sent into remote rural areas (Tibet Daily, March 11, 2012).

In a further indication of a systematic campaign underway in Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region, hundreds of Tibetans from Lhasa were detained upon their return from a major religious teaching by the Dalai Lama in India in January 2012 and subjected to ‘re-education.’ The detentions, which have not been seen before on this scale following a Dalai Lama teaching in India, may have indicated the authorities’ concerns of a spread in unrest following the series of self-immolations and protests in eastern Tibet. (ICT report, Lockdown in Lhasa at Tibetan New Year; unprecedented detentions of hundreds of Tibetans after Dalai Lama teaching in exile).

“The daily conditions of repression that Tibetans experience must change if we are to hope for an end to protests across Tibet. We therefore renew our call on the Chinese government to turn away from its destructive path, to respect the universal rights and dignity of the Tibetan people, and to engage the Dalai Lama or his representatives in a dialogue on genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China. We mourn the loss of all the Tibetans who have chosen self-sacrifice to protes the intolerable conditions of Chinese mis-rule, and we pray for their families and a future Tibet where peace and justice prevails,” said Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.