Written by Alexa Olesen, contributions from Isolda Morillo
BEIJING (AP) — Tibetans including a prominent writer under virtual house arrest in Beijing are pleading for an end to self-immolations in protest of Chinese rule, saying self-destructive measures do nothing for the cause of Tibetan rights.
Poet Tsering Woeser said in online appeal posted Thursday that she is “grief-stricken” by the more than two dozen people who have set themselves on fire over the past year. She called on influential Tibetans, including monks and intellectuals, to help end the deadly form of protest.
China has sought to portray the wave of immolations — including three since Saturday — as the result of outside orchestration rather than what activists say is local anguish over the government’s suppression of Tibetan religion and culture. Many of the protesters have been linked to a Buddhist monastery in the mountainous Aba prefecture of Sichuan province.
This is a sensitive time for Tibet, and for all of China. China’s annual legislative session, a time when security is tightened across the country, began this week. March is also when Tibetans mark significant anniversaries, including that of the unsuccessful 1959 revolt that caused the Dalai Lama to flee, and deadly anti-government riots that rocked the Tibetan capital Lhasa in 2008.
In Beijing on Friday, President Hu Jintao met with Tibetan delegates to the national legislature and urged them to maintain stability, spread the message of ethnic unity and safeguard the unity of the motherland, the official Xinhua News Agency said. He did not mention the self-immolation protests.
In recent weeks, Woeser has posted on her blog photos and information about self-immolations, as well as the tightening of security in Tibetan areas. Her willingness to openly confront authorities makes her stand out among Tibetans.
For more than a week, the writer’s home has been guarded by security agents who say she must ask permission to go anywhere. They prevented her from receiving a cultural award last week at the Dutch ambassador’s residence in Beijing.
Woeser signed the appeal against self-immolation with Gade Tsering, another China-based Tibetan poet, and Arjia Lobsang Tupten, an exiled Tibetan Buddhist teacher based in the United States.
“Tibetans must cherish life and live with resilience. Regardless of the magnitude of oppression, our life is important, and we have to cherish it,” they said.
Their statement said Tibetans can challenge oppression only by staying alive.
“Staying alive allows us to gather the strength as drops of water to form a great ocean,” it said. “It depends on thousands and more living Tibetans to pass on our nation’s spirit and blood!”
The letter also asks “monks, the elderly, intellectuals, officials, and the masses” to help prevent more immolations.
China blames supporters of exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations.
The Dalai Lama has praised the courage of those who engage in self-immolation and has attributed the protests to what he calls China’s “cultural genocide” in Tibet. He also says he does not encourage the protests, noting that they could invite an even harsher crackdown.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press
AP Photo of Tibetan delegates at a province delegation meeting by Andy Wong