Tibetans and foreign supporters carry photos of self-immolators during the final day of the four-day solidarity campaign in New Delhi on Febraury 2, 2013. (Phayul photo)
DHARAMSHALA, February 8: In a first of its kind mass arrest in connection with the ongoing wave of self-immolation protests in Tibet, Chinese authorities have arrested 70 Tibetans in eastern Tibet.
Chinese state media Xinhua
on Thursday cited police in the Malho region as saying that the “criminal suspects” were captured in connection with a “string of self-immolations that have occurred since November 2012.”
As many as 99 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 protesting Chinese rule and demanding freedom and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile.
The report cited a senior police official as saying that more efforts will be exerted to “thoroughly investigate the cases and seriously punish those who incite innocent people to commit self-immolation.”
Lyu Benqian, who heads a special police team investigating the self-immolations also blamed “the Dalai Lama clique” for “masterminding and inciting” the protests.
“Personal information, such as photos of the victims, were sent overseas to promote the self-immolations,” the report cited him as saying.
"Some of the victims were frustrated and pessimistic in life, and they wanted to earn respect by self-immolation," Lyu added.
The report also carried stories of several individual self-immolators, claiming that their personal problems were the reason for their protests.
Among those arrested, the report cited one Phagpa, a young Tibetan in Dowa, Rebkong region, who was arrested for attending the funerals of six self-immolators, offering donations to their family members and working to spread ideas related to separatism and "Tibetan independence."
Last month, Chinese courts sentenced a Tibetan Lobsang Kunchok to death with a two-year reprieve and Lobsang Tsering to 10 years on charges of “intentional homicide.” The same day, another court sentenced six Tibetans to varying jail terms of 12 to three years in jail on similar charges.
Following the sentencing, New York based global rights group, Human Rights Watch, said Chinese authorities should “immediately release” Kunchok and Tsering, while noting that their conviction “relied solely on confessions they gave during five months in detention.”
“These prosecutions are utterly without credibility,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The Chinese government seems to think it can stop self-immolation by punishing anyone who talks about it. But in pursuing these ‘incitement’ cases, the government compounds the tragedy of these suicide protests.”
HRW noted that it has documented “endemic use of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and coercion of Tibetans in detention.”
“Self-immolations take place in the context of the Chinese government’s long-standing repressive policies in the Tibetan areas that have seen severe restrictions on Tibetans’ rights,” HRW said.
The Dharamshala based Central Tibetan Administration also condemned the harsh sentences, blaming the Chinese leadership as “solely responsible for the growing unrest and deteriorating situation in Tibet.”
“The series of rushed sentences clearly show that Tibetans in Tibet are denied basic human rights,” the exile Tibetan administration said. “It is also evident that these are done in utter disregard to the Tibetan aspiration and deep anguish at the continuing self-immolations in Tibet.”