Official Opinion Urges Criminal Prosecution of Persons Linked to Self-Immolations

January 18, 2013

According to a December 3, 2012, provincial Communist Party newspaper report, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, Supreme People's Court, and Ministry of Public Security issued an official opinion calling for persons officials deem to be "principal culprits" linked to a Tibetan self-immolation to face criminal prosecution for "intentional homicide." The opinion, which the report cited but did not date or make accessible, described additional activities associated with self-immolation that could be prosecuted as crimes. Implementation of the opinion could result in significant risks for persons close to a self-immolator, including relatives, friends, and colleagues, as well as Tibetans who join in expressions of sympathy or sorrow following self-immolations.

Based on a Gansu Daily report (in Chinese, 3 December 12; translated in Dui Hua Human Rights Journal, 5 December 12), the "Opinion on Handling Self-Immolation Cases in Tibetan Areas in Accordance With the Law" (the Opinion), describes Tibetan self-immolations in terms stressing "evil" criminality, not as protests resulting from grievances that the government could address constructively:

  • [The] recent self-immolations that have occurred in Tibetan areas are cases of significant evil that result from collusion between hostile forces inside and outside our borders whose attempts to use premeditated, organized plots to incite splittism, undermine ethnic unity, and seriously disrupt social order.

The Opinion asserts that Tibetan self-immolations are criminal acts, not ordinary suicides, because the self-immolators were not "world weary" but were motivated by separatism. On that basis, the Opinion states that acts by persons who "organize, direct, and plot [self-immolations], as well as those who actively participate in inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations, will be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with [the PRC Criminal Law]." [See Criminal Law, Article 232, on intentional homicide.] The Opinion advises authorities to prosecute as crimes additional types of activity related to self-immolations, including but not limited to:

  • Preparing for a self-immolation;
  • Obstructing security officials or medical personnel at the scene of a self-immolation;
  • Creating a "serious" disturbance where a self-immolation occurred;
  • Gathering a crowd to disrupt social, public, or traffic order by carrying or viewing a self-immolator's corpse; and
  • Gathering a group to mourn or collect donations for a self-immolator.

The Commission has observed recent reports of detentions of Tibetans that may have resulted from links to a self-immolation. The reports did not provide specific information tying detentions to self-immolations, but noted that the detentions followed self-immolations. The following examples are detentions that reportedly took place on or after the December 3 publication of the Gansu Daily report on the Opinion.

  • December 3. After the December 2 self-immolation of Sangdu Kyab in Bola (Bora) township, Xiahe (Sangchu) county, Gannan (Kanlho) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Gansu province, on December 3, security officials reportedly detained five Bora Monastery monks for interrogation: Gedun Gyatso, Lobsang Phagpa, Jamyang Zoepa, Jamyang Lodroe, and Jamyang Gyatso (Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, 18 December 12; Radio Free Asia, 18 December 12).
  • December 3-4. Following the December 3 self-immolation of monk Lobsang Gedun of Penag Monastery, security officials in Banma (Pema) county, Guoluo (Golog) TAP, Qinghai province, detained Washul Dortrug on December 3 and Choekyab on December 4 (Voice of America, 6 December 12).
  • December 6 (approximate). "Ten days" after the November 26 self-immolation of Gonpo Tsering in Luqu (Luchu) county, Gannan TAP, security officials detained Gonpo Tsering's father, Tashi Sonam, and his unnamed grandfather (Phayul, 27 December 12).

The Gansu Daily report did not provide a Web link to the Opinion or the date when it was issued, but it appears to coincide approximately with an unprecedented surge of self-immolations. From October 13 to December 9, a period of less than two months, the Commission observed 41 reports of Tibetan self-immolation (36 reported fatal). During the month of November, when the Communist Party 18th Party Congress took place, there were 28 reported self-immolations. In a significant shift, the profile of the self-immolators changed from a majority who were current or former monastics located in Sichuan province, to a majority who were laypersons located outside of Sichuan province. As of January 12, 2013—the date of the most recent self-immolation on which the Commission observed reports as of January 16, 2013—the total number of Tibetan self-immolations carried out as political or religious protests reached 95—82 of them reportedly fatal. As of January 12, 51 of the 95 self-immolators reportedly were laypersons; 52 of the self-immolations reportedly took place in Qinghai and Gansu provinces and the Tibet Autonomous Region.

On December 7, 2012, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson denied that government policy toward Tibetan culture, language, and religion had any role in the self-immolations (Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States, in Chinese, 7 December 12; translated in OSC, 7 December 12). Instead, the spokesperson blamed the self-immolations on "the Dalai clique"—organizations and individuals the Party associates with the Dalai Lama. The spokesman asserted that "Tibet-related issues are not issues of ethnicity, religion, or human rights", but pertain to "China's sovereignty and territorial integrity." The Commission noted in its 2012 Annual Report:

  • The Party and government have not indicated any willingness to consider Tibetan grievances in a constructive manner and to hold themselves accountable for Tibetan rejection of Chinese policies, and handled the crisis as a threat to state security and social stability instead of as a policy failure.

For more information on Tibetan self-immolations, see CECC, "Special Report: Tibetan Self-Immolation—Rising Frequency, Wider Spread, Greater Diversity, 22 August 12; CECC, "Special Report: Tibetan Monastic Self-Immolations Appear To Correlate With Increasing Repression of Freedom of Religion," 23 December 11.