The year 2012 was a year of unprecedented protests by Tibetans, who showed their opposition against the repressive rule of the Chinese regime on a scale never seen before. Of the nearly 100 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in protest, over 80 occurred this year. The self-immolations of numerous Tibetans, mostly monks, have continued.
Many more demonstrations and gatherings have taken place in all parts of Tibet this year. Earlier this month, a young Tibetan living in China’s Gansu province stabbed himself to death and wrote a call for Tibetan freedom in his own blood while the ruling Chinese Communist Party met last month in Beijing to endorse the country’s new leaders.
After the recent self-immolations by two young Tibetans on December 8th Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said she has “grave concerns” for the welfare of Tibetans living in the townships where Saturday’s burnings happened. “China has announced collective punishments it intends to mete out on communities where protests take place, and Free Tibet has documented, time and again, China’s flagrant violations of human rights, including the use of lethal force, during the uprising in Tibet,” she said in a statement.
She called for the international community to support Tibet: “Tibetans continue to call for freedom, despite the cost. It is beyond time for the world to take decisive action for Tibet.”
The Dalai Lama has stated that he does not encourage his people to continue to protest in such drastic ways. He said in November at a meeting in Dharamsala, India with more than 200 members of the Tibet Support Groups from across the world that the situation in Tibet is getting “quite serious” and asked the Chinese leadership to embrace “freedom and justice” and stop using force to suppress the “non-violent” struggle of the Tibetans. At the same time, Beijing has responded with added security measures and arrests.
The year started with a violent response to protests by Chinese security police. On January 23, police opened fire on a large gathering in Draggo, injuring around 30 Tibetans and killing at least one person, Norpa Yonten, a 49 year-old herder.
The organization Free Tibet says that this heavy handed response has become ”a too common consequence of protests in Tibet” and that ”even peaceful acts of protests are met by police brutality and torture.”
Jigme Dolma is one of the young Tibetans sent to prison simply for exercising her right to peaceful protest. On June 24, she went out on her own, shouting slogans for the return of the Dalai Lama and scattering leaflets. After only a few minutes she was surrounded by security police, beaten and arrested. She was later given three years in prison.
Other Tibetans have been given similar harsh sentences for simply sharing information about protests, or being associated with a person who have self-immolated.
This year has seen the largest gatherings of Tibetans since the 2008 protests in which Tibetan monks staged a peaceful march in Lhasa to mark the 49th anniversary of the 1959 uprising. In March 2012, monks and laypeople gathered in Rongwo Town following the self-immolation of Sonam Dargye. Chinese security police arrived to disperse the crowds but had to back down due to the number of protesters.
In November, up to 5000 students marched the streets of Rebgong, bringing traffic to a standstill. They were demanding equality and language rights for Tibetans and the return of the Dalai Lama.
Some of the Tibetans who have set themselves on fire have left moving testimonies to explain their actions. Sonam and Choephak Kyap, both in their 20s, set fire to themselves on April 19th in Barma Township in Ngaba County. They left a voice recording urging Tibetans to: “Diligently preserve your culture and do not lose your dignity. Remain united as one. The suffering Tibetan people experience due to the denial of our freedom is much greater than the suffering of setting my body on fire.”
This video showing their immolation was smuggled out of Tibet:
In November, Sangye Dolma set fire to herself and died in Dokarmo Township. She left a photo of herself with the words “Tibet is an independent country” written on her hand.
An unprecedented number of Tibetans have chosen to protest by setting themselves on fire. During 2012, eight young people under the age of 18 have protested this way. Of these, four died and the conditions of the others are unknown, according to Free Tibet.
This year also saw the first triple self-immolation when three teenage monks set fire to themselves in Eastern Tibet. 15-year-old Dorjee, who died, and 16 year-olds Samdup and Dorjee Kyab called for freedom in Tibet and for the return of the Dalai Lama.
There are no signs that the current level of protest is about to diminish, and the punitive Chinese response may generate more Tibetan action.
On December 12th, protesters gathered outside the White House demanding action from President Obama in support of Tibet: