5th Jun 2023

EU-China: Business as usual despite Tibet suicides

  • A self-immolation in Tunisia last year led to the Jasmine Revolution and the Arab Spring. The word 'Jasmine' is blocked in Internet searches in China (Photo:

Two months ago, on 14 January, 22-year-old Buddhist monk Lobsang Jamyang was riding into the town of Ngaba in Tibet as a pillion passenger on a motorcycle. He asked the driver to turn off the main road to visit the Andu monastery, where he said a prayer, and chatted about a recently-divorced local couple.

When he arrived in Ngaba, he went to a restaurant and ate a vegeterian meal.

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At around 1.30pm local time, he went to the toilet, where he doused himself in petrol. He set himself on fire and went onto the street where he called for a free Tibet and long life for the Dalai Lama, its leader-in-exile. Instead of putting out the flames, police kicked him and hit him with clubs. They took him away and he died two days later.

According to Buddhist teaching, suicide is forbidden because it is an act of violence against ones-self, but it can be excused in special circumstances.

Twenty five other people have set themselves on fire in Tibet since 2009. In the latest incidents, a 32-year-old mother-of-four and a 20-year-old woman did it on Saturday (3 March). Another 18-year-old man did it on Monday.

The Chinese line is that the government has brought Tibet economic prosperity and that the Dalai Lama brainwashes people to commit acts of "terrorism."

For their part, mid-level EU diplomats have asked to send a fact-finding mission to see what is going on (China says No). But top officials, such as Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso do not mention Tibet in public and mention human rights little if at all.

EUobserver interviewed a close relative of Lobsang who now lives in India but who is nevertheless afraid for this website to publish his name.

The contact remembered Lobsang as a small boy, who liked music, sports and playing with grass. He said the Dalai Lama had nothing to do with his death and that Lobsang's psychological state before the immolation was "determined ... normal."

"The Dalai Lama has never encouraged them to do immolation. He wants them to stop it because he can't bear the loss of his people. The self-immolators did it out of their own consciences ... Tibetans are not really aware about what is the big political drama. They are doing these desperate things because they are being treated so badly," he said.

He added that he is "grateful" for international attention. But Tibetan actvists are puzzled why there is so little of it despite the extreme nature of events.

"It is quite depressing not to get any good coverage in the media despite 26 instances of self-immolation. Power cut-offs in houses in Europe for a day or two seem to have more importance than the lives of Tibetans. Do you think it is because the media here have lost their interest in Tibet or are they not enough informed?" Rigzin Genkhang, an activist at the Brussels office of the Tibetan government-in-exile, recently asked EUobserver.

The Tibetan community in the EU capital is on Saturday (10 March) organising a march to highlight the situation.

Meanwhile, Lobsang's relative urged the EU to keep asking to go to Tibet. "It is very important to know the reality, not just to listen from outside, but to investigate by yourself and then take measures accordingly," he said.

He has little faith that China is ready to show the world what it is really doing, however. "If China lets the fact-finding mission go to a large area, then they will see the cruelty inflicted by China. But if it does not allow them to [travel] independently, then they will see only the good side," he noted.

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