The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Tibet policies in the PRC are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s United Front Work Department, headed since September by Ling Jihua. Chen Quanguo, an ethnic Han from Henan Province, became the TAR party secretary in August 2011. Ethnic Han encumbered the party secretary position in nine of the 10 TAPs, which are located in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. One TAP, in Qinghai Province, had an ethnic Tibetan party secretary. As in other predominantly minority areas of the PRC, ethnic Han CCP members held almost all top party, government, police, and military positions in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Central Committee Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
During the year the government’s respect for and protection of human rights in the TAR and other Tibetan areas deteriorated markedly. Under the banner of maintaining social stability, the government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s ethnic Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement. The government routinely vilified the Dalai Lama and blamed the “Dalai clique” and “other outside forces” for instigating the 83 self-immolations by Tibetan laypersons, monks, and nuns that occurred throughout the year. In an October 23 article, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a central party official as stating that Tibet-related issues were of paramount importance for the CCP, stability and development should be stressed in Tibetan regions, and China should exert greater effort in combating the influence of the “Dalai Lama clique.”
Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial detentions, and house arrests. There was a deepening perception among Tibetans that they were systemically targeted for economic marginalization and educational and employment discrimination. The presence of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and other security forces remained at high levels in communities across the Tibetan Plateau. Repression was severe throughout the year but increased in the periods before and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. In March all major monasteries in the TAR and other Tibetan areas outside the TAR were guarded by security forces due to the anniversary of the 2008 demonstrations and subsequent police crackdown. Students, monks, laypersons, and others in many Tibetan areas were detained after reportedly demanding freedom and human rights and expressing their support for the Dalai Lama. In the period before and during the 18th Party Congress and the related central leadership transition, oppressive security measures taken by authorities across the Tibetan Plateau contributed to a further deterioration of the human rights situation. The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses. Because of these restrictions and the government’s many denials of visits to Tibetan areas by foreigners, many of the incidents and cases mentioned in this report could not be independently verified.
Disciplinary procedures were opaque, and it was not clear that security or other authorities were punished for behavior defined under Chinese laws and regulations as abuses of power and authority. Impunity appeared to be a problem.
The total number of reported self-immolations by Tibetan Buddhist laypersons and clergy during the year, 83, was more than six times that of 2011. In addition to an increase in the incidence of self-immolation, the geographic range of such incidents extended across the Tibetan Plateau (and in one case, to Beijing), and there was an increase in self-immolations by laypersons (as opposed to current or former Buddhist monks or nuns), the majority of whom were age 21 or older. A particularly alarming surge in self-immolations took place from October through early December, when 43 Tibetans reportedly self-immolated, 35 of them laypersons, including 18 in Gansu Province (which had previously seen only two such incidents), 16 in Qinghai Province, six in Sichuan Province, and three in the TAR. The vast majority of these incidents resulted in death.
Prior to March all of the reported self-immolators were current or former monks or nuns. However, as highlighted in the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) August 22 report Tibetan Self-Immolation--Rising Frequency, Wider Spread, Greater Diversity, self-immolation by laypersons grew markedly during the spring. By year’s end laypersons represented more than half of the self-immolations committed in 2012. On the basis of data assembled by Beijing-based writer and blogger Tsering Woeser, who collected and published the last words of 26 self-immolators, noted Tibetologist Wang Lixiong observed that 14 of the 26 self-immolators who left final statements saw their act as a form of protest to affect change, 10 saw their act in religious terms and expressed devotion to the Dalai Lama, and five expressed desperation with conditions they found unbearable. While some of the laypersons who self-immolated reportedly made statements that echoed those of many monastic self-immolators (for example, calling for “freedom” for Tibetans and the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet), some reportedly protested specific mining or infrastructure projects on the Tibetan Plateau that adversely affected them personally or that they believed were harmful to the environment; others protested social and economic conditions that they believed unfairly disadvantaged Tibetans. For example, in June, Dickyi Choezom, a mother of two in her forties, died after self-immolating in Yushu (Yulshul) TAP, Gansu Province, reportedly to protest government expropriation of family property. On September 13, another woman from the same area, 62-year-old Passang Lhamo, was reportedly injured when she set herself on fire in Beijing in a similar protest; her condition remained unknown.
The Chinese government responded harshly to self-immolations. In March the head of the Aba (Ngaba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture (T&QAP) government, Wu Zegang, asserted that Tibetans who committed self-immolation were being “used by separatists to create chaos.” Alleging that the self-immolators had been in communication with the Tibetan exile community, Wu stated that “the Dalai Lama clique and overseas splittist forces are viciously leading Tibetan Buddhism onto the track of extremism. By touting self-immolators as so-called heroes and performing religious rituals to make amends for the sins of the dead, they support and inspire self-immolations. They instigate people to emulate and will not hesitate to use the terroristic behavior of sacrificing people’s lives to reach their splittist objective.”
An editorial in the December 3 Gansu Daily, an online news site, noted that the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security had jointly issued the Opinion on Handling Cases of Self-Immolation in Tibetan Areas According to Law, which criminalizes various activities associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.” According to the opinion, the motive of self-immolators was “generally to split the country” and the act itself constituted criminal behavior, as it posed a threat to public safety and public order. The opinion stated that “ringleaders” would be targeted for “major punishment.”
According to various overseas rights groups, on November 14, the government of Huangnan (Malho) TAP in Qinghai Province issued a notice to local party members and government officials ordering them to discipline bereaved family members of self-immolators by withholding public benefits, including disaster relief. The notice also called for the punishment of laypersons, monastic personnel, family members, and officials who organize or participate in burial or mourning activities. Villages where self-immolations take place are subject to the cancellation of publicly funded development and disaster relief projects, and monasteries found to have participated in or organized fundraising activities or prayer ceremonies for self-immolators or their families are subject to cancellation of public funding or even closure.
Not long after the issuance of the November 14 notice, a number of friends, relatives, and associates of self-immolators across the Tibetan Plateau were detained, arrested, or sentenced. For example, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on December 9 that police had detained Kirti Monastery monk Lorang Konchok and his nephew, Lorang Tsering, and accused them of instigating self-immolations. On December 14, Phayul (a news Web site maintained by Tibetan exiles) reported that Chinese officials arrested five Tibetans in connection with the December 9 self-immolation of 17-year-old Bhenchen Kyi, a student in Zeku (Tsekhog) County, Huangnan (Malho) TAP, Qinghai Province. The whereabouts of the five were unknown. On December 27, Phayul reported that the father and grandfather of Gonpo Tsering, who self-immolated on November 26 in Luqu County, Gannan (Kanlho) TAP, Gansu Province, were detained in early December. Their whereabouts were unknown.