Growing voices of solidarity with Tibetans among Chinese netizens

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Dharamsala : Despite intensified government crackdowns and internet censorship, many Chinese netizens – in the absence of a free media Chinese citizens are very active on the internet that cannot be so easily policed – are increasingly voicing solidarity with the Tibetans who are setting themselves afire for more autonomy and the return of the Dalai Lama, says a US-based NGO.

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The Tibetan government-in-exile based in this Himachal Pradesh town says the toll in self-immolation cases in Tibet has risen to 90 since 2009, over 20 in November itself. According to reports, Kunchok Kyab, a 29-year-old Tibetan man, set himself afire Friday in Zoegey in Ngaba in northeastern Tibet.

The protests, it says, are against Beijing’s “repressive policies” and to demand the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland.

The netizens are questioning the Chinese government’s policies, going to the extent of accusing Beijing of intentionally avoiding the problem in Tibet, says Human Rights in China, a voluntary organisation formed by Chinese students and scholars in the US in 1989.

Besides demanding an end to the oppression of the ethnic minorities, the Chinese netizens have helped spread reports of self-immolations by Tibetans online and expressed their concern by posting comments on social media websites like Twitter, the NGO says.

“One self-immolated Tibetan, Chagmo Kyi, left a suicide note calling for ethnic equality. People found a note on her body that said: ‘All ethnicities are equal; the new leader Xi Jinping must meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’,” says a tweet by Chen Yunfei ‏@chen_yunfei on Twitter.

Chinese human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong tweeted: “Why the world is numb toward (sic) self-immolations?”

“Some say the world is numb and indifferent toward Tibetans’ self-immolation. I deeply agree. Especially Han Chinese, it seems as if it is not relevant to them, or they are intentionally avoiding the problem I only hope that Han Chinese and other friends, alone or in groups of two or three, will visit Tibetan areas to see the natural environment there, and then put themselves there (sic),” said Jiang’s twitter account @jtyong.

“The Communist Party of China must understand that the way to prevent Tibetans from self-immolation is to stop the colonial oppressive rule in Tibet. In another words, self-immolation will not end as long as (Tibet) is not liberated,” said Thisiswiki at ‏@thisiswiki.

“I hope more people will pay attention to the Tibetans’ situation and their wishes. Put an end to the authoritarian and decrepit one-party system and the oppression of ethnic minorities,” observed Zhang Min at @ZhMinYH.

Thubten Samphel, director of the Tibet Policy Institute, a research-oriented wing of the Tibetan administration, said a burning topic of discussion between Tibetan exiles and the Chinese these days is the spate of fiery deaths.

“When informed of these self-immolations, the reaction from the Chinese netizens is one of shock. Even when images of self-immolations were sent to them, the sentiment of the majority Chinese netizens is: this can’t be happening in China,” Samphel said.

The Dalai Lama interacted with Chinese rights activists for the first time through videoconferencing last year, answering questions mainly on his approach to resolving the issue of Tibet with Beijing.

The Dalai Lama’s office said Chinese scholars from Taiwan and mainland China regularly interact with the spiritual leader on Facebook. It also helps in understanding his “middle-way” policy for Tibet, it added.

Political observers here told IANS that using cyber space to reach out to the ordinary Chinese was an attempt to counter Beijing’s adverse stand vis-a-vis the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause.

The Dalai Lama, 77, who believes in “greater autonomy” for the people of Tibet, is viewed by the Chinese as a hostile element bent on splitting Tibet from China.

The Nobel laureate, who still desires to return to Tibet some day, has expressed concern over self-immolations in Tibet, saying the issue is “very political”.

Some 140,000 Tibetans live in exile around the world, over 100,000 of them in India.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])