The news of a young man self-immolating has the potential to stir up controversies at a global level, especially when the act in itself was a call for attention towards the repression of one nation by the other, but the news of Shurmo, a 26-year old man from Tibet, stayed underground for more than five years.
This is what happened in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Although there were many Tibetan eyewitnesses to Shurmo’s self-immolation that day yet because of the Chinese government’s extreme, heinous and draconian rules and policies, which censor press and the Internet in Tibet, the news of this unfortunate event failed to surface on the Internet and otherwise at the time it happened.
For a long time, China has had Tibet under its thumb. The condition of human rights in the region is beyond deplorable. The repression of freedom of speech, practice of religion, free movement and freedom to form associations and assembly in Tibet and Xinjiang in 2019 is far worse than any other place in People’s Republic of China.
China has disturbed the traditional Tibetan living standards and customs and quickened the forced absorption of Tibetans into standard Chinese society through:
• Promoting an influx of non-Tibetans into Tibetan territories, most of who were Chinese.
• Expanding their domestic tourism industry.
• Forcibly settling and urbanizing Tibetan nomads and farmers, which in turn is killing the latter’s ethnicity.
• Debilitating Tibetan-language training in government schools and monasteries while at the same time promoting Mandarin everywhere.
China occupied Tibet, which was an independent nation historically, in 1949 after a bloody conquest of the Himalayan nation. Many years forward, China is still controlling everything in Tibet and is dealing with it with an iron-fist and a tyrannical structure.
After the Chinese military took over Tibet in 1949, Tibetans have been treated as class two citizens in their own nation. They were kicked out of their homes and shipped off to townships so that the government could ‘develop’ these occupied spaces. More than 6,000 monasteries have been annihilated and those that endured are not being utilized by monks, but ironically, they are being utilized as religious and spiritual attractions for — generally Chinese — travelers while they themselves censor the religious autonomy of the Tibetans.
The Tibetan territories that were once used as spiritual spots and held a great significance naturally are now being utilized as nuclear waste dump yards. Tibetans don’t even enjoy the freedom of movement. Many Tibetan passports have been recalled and their borders have been sealed as well making this land of culture and ethnicity a closed territory which is slowly losing all its uniqueness because China is hell-bent upon forcing its own culture on the Tibetans.
There is hardly any media report in China on what China is doing in this Himalayan nation. Press and speech are censored and nothing escapes without Chinese intervention. There have been reports, where people have tried to deflect, but most are killed by the Chinese troops. Those who do raise their voices and go the extra length of getting the world to know about the sad state of affairs in Tibet are usually detained by the Chinese authorities. They are either taken as political prisoners, their freedom and movement is blocked, they continue to be tortured in the worst way possible; or they are made to disappear, nobody knowing where they are or even if they are alive.
“Lodoe Gyatso was arrested outside the Potala Palace in January 2018 and has not been seen since. In November 2018 sources reported Lodoe had been sentenced to 18 years in prison, but officials insisted his case was a state secret that could not be discussed. His whereabouts and condition were unknown.
Thubpa, a monk from Ngaba County, Sichuan, was detained in late 2017 and has not been heard from since. He had previously served 18 months in prison for burning a Chinese flag in protest in 2008. No charges have been announced and his whereabouts were unknown” as published in an article by International Campaign for Tibet on March 11, 2020.
These are just a few reports that were published out of the sea of thousands of others that couldn’t find their way out due to press censorship. China has always sought to be in control, either by enforcing inhumane laws and regulations, or by repressing any news which might bring it under the radar of global criticism. It doesn’t want the news of protests against itself to reach the wider domain. The very same country which called for “global peace” and promoted “dialog” believes in torturing the dissenters.
There have been around 157 self-immolation protests in Tibet from 2009 to 2019, including Shurmo. Out of them, 125 protestors succumbed to their burns. And yet, China turns a blind eye and deaf ears to the cries of the tortured. For China, nothing is more important than the annihilation of those that come in the way of its expansionist dreams.
To China, the protesters are pestilent elements, and it doesn’t matter if they die. To the world, it is Tibet’s call for help. China’s perverse cruelty towards the Tibetans and the Uighurs is a reflection of what may happen if the country becomes a global power. Every time the world overlooks China’s excesses, the latter triumphs. If the world isn’t careful and doesn’t call out China against its violation of Human Rights in the name of consolidation of its powers, China would soon be an invincible force that might disrupt Global peace eventually.
• Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China.
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