Tibet exile leader blames self-immolations on China policy

Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:34pm EST
 
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Beijing's attempts to stop Tibetans setting themselves on fire to protest against Chinese rule are counter-productive and are only provoking more self-immolations, the Tibetan prime minister in exile told Reuters on Tuesday.

Lobsang Sangay, who replaced the Dalai Lama as the political leader of exiled Tibetans in 2011, said Beijing first branded self-immolators as thieves and then as homeless. Later they blamed his government in exile.

"Then they started criminalizing it, prosecuting not just the self-immolators (but also) their family members quite strongly in the months of December and January. But now self-immolation has continued," Sangay said.

"So that means that no matter how hardline their policies, no matter how much they crack down on Tibetans, it doesn't seem to work. So in that sense, it's high time they review their policies and acknowledge that it's not working and then address the issue more realistically."

In early February, Chinese state media said the authorities had detained 70 "criminal suspects" in a crackdown on self-immolations.

Sangay, a Harvard-educated lawyer, said 107 Tibetans had set themselves on fire since 2009, including six or seven this year.

"The blame squarely lies with Beijing. Their hard-line policies are making Tibetans self-immolate," he said, speaking in a room in the Canadian Parliament before testifying to a human rights subcommittee of the House of Commons.

"We discourage the actions, but support the aspirations," Sangay said, referring to those who have chosen self-immolation. "How much more forceful can we be? We've said, 'Don't do it. Life is precious.'"   Continued...

 
Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, waits to testify before the Commons subcommittee on international human rights on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie