Chinese officials have been adamant about keeping Tibetan protests for autonomy and freedom out of the major cities of the region. At least 37 Tibetans have set themselves on fire over the last 14 months in protest to China’s enforced rule over Tibet, but none of these demonstrations took place inside the capital city of Lhasa.
On Sunday, two men challenged Chinese authority by self-immolating in Lhasa in front of one of the most sacred temples in Tibet. The Jokhang Temple is a central pilgrimage site and covers more than six acres of land. The two men set themselves on fire and were quickly taken out of sight by security forces.
CNN reports that one of the young men, 19-year-old Tobgye Tseten, died. The other man, Dargye, was seriously injured but in stable condition in the hospital. A special task force has now been assigned to investigate the situation. Chinese officials have called the acts separatist attempts, which could foment unrest in the country. The Dalai Lama, who has been in exile for more than 50 years, is often blamed for encouraging such separatist attempts.
Daily News and Analysis reports that the two men walked out in front of the temple in the middle of the afternoon, shouted three times, and set themselves on fire. Security forces arrived quickly, put out the fire, cordoned off tourists and had the area cleaned out within 15 minutes. No trace of the demonstration was left behind.
Lhasa is now filled with military forces and a repressive atmosphere reigns since the incident on Sunday. The Chinese government has made an undetermined number of arrests since the Sunday demonstration and has shut down communication with the outside world.
Voice of America reports that, “eyewitnesses have photographed the latest protest, but they could not be forwarded because Chinese authorities immediately cut information links to the outside world.” The government is also planning to ban Tibetan Buddhists from celebrating the sacred month Saka Dawa, which celebrates the Buddha’s birth.
Chinese officials maintain that living conditions in Tibet have improved over the years. The first question that comes to mind is why more than 30 people have self-immolated in such a short space of time. 28 of those who have used this technique to demand freedom from China have died. Most of the demonstrators are Buddhist monks and nuns who were making a plea for the return of their religious leader, the Dalai Lama, as well as religious and political autonomy in the region.
Unfortunately, this most recent demonstration by Tobgye Tseten and Dargye has only added fuel to a blaze of government crackdowns. The capital city looks to be at the center of intensive investigation and control in the coming weeks after the protest. These self-immolations are reportedly the first demonstration inside the city limits of Lhasa since 2008. About 300 monks walked through the streets of Lhasa in that year.
Directly after the protest, Chinese officials put the city on lock down indefinitely, which explains why there are so few demonstrations in the capital and why these self-immolations have captured the world’s attention as well as the Chinese government’s ire.
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