In anticipation of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to India on Monday, protests have heated up in Tibet. In one shocking case, Jamphel Yeshi, 27, lit himself on fire to protest China’s control over Tibet. Engulfed in flames, he ran screaming at a demonstration in New Delhi. The photographs of his act have since gone viral on the internet.
There have been 30 such self-immolations in the last year to protest for Tibet’s independence, mostly among Buddhist monks between the ages of 20-30. The media of these demonstrations has been intensely suppressed by the Chinese government.
“These acts aimed at achieving Tibetan independence and separatism through taking people’s lives will never possibly be successful and will be severely condemned by the international community,” said president Hong at a news briefing. He also blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting these demonstrations and labeled self-immolation as a form of terrorism.
“I can’t really see how it is going to stop,” said Nottingham University professor of contemporary Chinese studies Steve Tsang. “As those studying other forms of extremist spectacular violence have found, such acts are part of a culture that becomes established in a given institution or community.” Tibetans’ find such demonstrations highly moving.
The demonstrators this Monday denied planning Yeshi’s self-immolation. “We have no idea how this happened, but we appreciate the courage,” said Tenzing Norsang, who is a leader with the Tibetan Youth Congress. Indeed, after the young man collapsed, demonstrators attempted to prevent police from taking him to the hospital, till police seized him by force.
“He is so badly burned,” said Yeshi’s cousin and roommate, Sonam Wangyal. But “all the Tibetan people are suffering … we are fighting for freedom. The world should know this.” Wangyal also reported that Yeshi had wounds over 98% of his body, and that his condition is “very very critical.”
Yeshi escaped from Tibet in 2006 and in the last two years has been living in New Delhi. His friends said he has never spoken of plans to immolate himself. He has been unemployed since moving to Delhi and has regularly participated in Tibetan protests.
Tibet’s self-declared government in exile has denied the Dalai Lama ordered these forms of demonstration, saying Tuesday, “In the long-term interest of the Tibetan cause, we urge Tibetans to focus on secular and monastic education to provide the necessary human resources and the capability to strengthen and sustain our movement. We once again remind Tibetans to refrain from drastic actions.”