Tibetan Exile Sets Self Afire in Protest Act
By SRUTHI GOTTIPATI and RICK GLADSTONE, NEW DELHI(NY Times): Over the past year, nearly 30 Tibetans in remote areas of western China have set fire to themselves to draw attention to what they call Chinese government repression, but the visual images of their protests have seldom been seen by outsiders. Censorship authorities in China, which regards the immolation as a form of terrorism, have made sure of it.On Monday, however, a 26-year-old Tibetan exile in New Delhi offered the world a visceral view of a self-immolation, setting himself on fire at a demonstration to protest the impending visit to India by China’s president, Hu Jintao. Photographs of the man, a literal human torch in flames who sprinted for 50 yards with contorted screams before he collapsed by a tree, raced around the world by way of India’s unfettered press and the Internet.
“From head to toe, he was full of fire,” said a witness, Tenzin Dorjee, the national director of Students for a Free Tibet. “He was shouting. I was in shock. There were women crying.”
The exile, identified by the police as Jampa Yeshi, who left Tibet in 2006 and has lived in India for at least two years, apparently had soaked himself in flammable liquid unbeknownst to fellow activists at the demonstration. They scrambled to extinguish the flames by smothering them with Tibetan flags and sloshing Mr. Yeshi with water. Vast sections of his skin were blackened, and he was in critical condition late Monday at a local hospital, Tibetan exile news sites reported.
At least 600 Tibetan protesters from India’s Tibetan community-in-exile had been demonstrating, some carrying signs that read “Tibet Is Burning” and “Tibet Is Not Part of China,” when the self-immolation occurred.
News and images of the self-immolation were conspicuously absent from the Web site of China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, which has characterized such acts as terrorist incitement fomented by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader-in-exile, who lives in India and is considered a subversive advocate of Tibetan independence.
The Dalai Lama and his subordinates have expressed shock and sadness at the immolations but have called them a reflection of desperation by Tibetans living under a system that represses their religion and culture.
The self-immolation on Monday was the second in the last few months in India, home to about 120,000 Tibetans.
The demonstrators had been making their way back from Ramlila Maidan, a frequently used rallying point, where hundreds of Tibetans had been protesting Mr. Hu’s scheduled visit this week for an economic meeting of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. They regrouped at Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century celestial observatory that is often used as a political stage.
Shortly before 12:30 p.m. local time, as a minister in the lower house of India’s Parliament was speaking about the self-immolations in Tibet, Mr. Yeshi ran out from behind a gate in flames.
Afterward, the marchers tried to proceed to the Chinese Embassy but were stopped by the police. “What do we want? We want freedom!” the protesters chanted as they wound their way through the streets waving Tibetan flags. “Who’s the killer? Hu Jintao.”
The police prevented the marchers from getting close to the Indian Parliament, which was still in session. Demonstrators settled on the pavement at the mouth of Parliament Street as Tenzin Norsang, the joint secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, who was leading the protest, negotiated with the police.
Some held placards with the words “Hu Jintao is unwelcome” and a picture of a bloody hand smacking the Chinese president’s face. As the afternoon heat built, they blocked the sun with the placards.
Leaders of Tibetan groups said Mr. Yeshi, whose first name has also been rendered as Jamphel and Jamyang, had acted alone. “It’s not planned by any organization,” Mr. Norsang said. But he added, “We appreciate his courage.”
Sruthi Gottipati reported from New Delhi, and Rick Gladstone from New York.