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Tibetan Self-Immolations

Tibetan exile monks stand during a candlelit vigil in New Delhi, India, to express solidarity with the plight of the Tibetan people.

The United States Government is seriously concerned by reports that three more Tibetans have self-immolated over the past few days.

“[The United States Government is] seriously concerned by reports that three more Tibetans have self-immolated over the past few days,” the State Department spokesperson said on January 9. “Since March [2011], this brings the count to some 15 Tibetan Buddhist self-immolations in China.”

Media reported that a 40-year-old Tibetan monk, Sonam Wangyal, also known as Sonam Drugyu, died after setting himself on fire January 8, 2012, in Qinghai province in northwestern China. The latest death comes after two former monks in neighboring Sichuan province set themselves on fire on January 6. According to media reports, both of the former monks have died.

“Over the last year, Tibetans who peacefully expressed disagreement with [Chinese] government policy [in Tibetan areas] faced increased risk of punishment,” Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, and U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, said in recent testimony to the U.S. Congress.

“The Chinese government also substantially increased state infringement of freedom of religion in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. Government security and judicial officials detained and imprisoned Tibetan writers, artists, intellectuals, and cultural advocates who lamented or criticized government policies,” Under Secretary Otero said, referring to findings of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, of which she is a commissioner.

Under Secretary Otero noted her deep concern with the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China, and specifically with the abuse and forcible removal of monks from Kirti Monastery and the heavy security presence there.

The recent self-immolations “clearly represent enormous anger, enormous frustration with regard to the severe restrictions on human rights, including religious freedom inside China,” the State Department spokesperson said.
“The U.S. government repeatedly has urged the Chinese government to address its counterproductive policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions and that threaten the unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people,” Under Secretary Otero said.

The U.S. Government has consistently and directly raised with the Chinese government the issue of Tibetan self-immolations. “We have urged the Chinese government to allow access to Tibetan areas for journalists, diplomats and other observers,” Under Secretary Otero said. “We also have asked the Chinese government to resume substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”