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28 February 2024

Tibet exiles say repression in China at new heights


A continuing spate of self-immolations by Tibetans in China are a desperate response to "new levels" of Chinese persecution, the Tibet government-in-exile said on Monday.

In a statement from its seat in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala, the exiled government urged the international community to "directly and immediately engage" with the Chinese leadership to prevent further violence.

At least 19 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the past year in protest against what they see as repressive policies in Tibetan-inhabited areas, which were hit by deadly unrest last month.

"Drastic actions, such as the self-immolations, indicate to us that the Chinese policies in Tibet have reached new levels of repression," the statement said.

"The international community must let leaders in Beijing know unequivocally that the world is concerned and closely watching events inside Tibet," it added.

The London-based group Free Tibet and US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) said three Tibetans were badly injured after setting themselves alight Friday in a remote village in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.

Tibetans have long chafed at China's rule over the vast Tibetan plateau, accusing Beijing of curbing religious freedoms and eroding their culture and language, and these tensions have intensified over the past year.

Beijing, however, insists that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion.

It blames the Dalai Lama -- a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule -- for fomenting much of the unrest.

In a rare public statement on Monday, the Karmapa Lama, a senior Tibetan religious leader who fled China in 1999, said Beijing's vilification of the Dalai Lama was misplaced and counter-productive.

"Constantly depicting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in hostile terms is an affront that benefits no one," the 27-year-old Karmapa said.

"In fact, striking at the heart of Tibetan faith damages the prospect of winning Tibetans' trust. This is neither effective nor wise," he added.

The Karmapa, who lives near Dharamshala, is seen by many Tibetans as the best candidate to take up the spiritual leadership of the Tibetan movement when the Dalai Lama dies.

Speaking of his "immense pain and sadness" at each report of another  self-immolation, the Karmapa said he understood the desperation that drove some Tibetans to such acts, but also appealed for calm.

"In these difficult times, I urge Tibetans in Tibet: Stay true to yourselves, keep your equanimity in the face of hardship and remain focused on the long term.

"Always bear in mind that your lives have great value, as human beings and as Tibetans," he said.