Tibetan Property Protests Result in Self-Immolation, Detention

February 8, 2013

In addition to 97 Tibetan self-immolations reported or believed to focus on political and religious issues during the period February 27, 2009, to January 22, 2013, an additional 2 Tibetan self-immolations reported in 2012 were property protests. Both self-immolators were Tibetan women protesting official expropriation of residential property and inadequate compensation during the redevelopment of the earthquake-devastated capital of Yushu (Yushul) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Qinghai province. The Commission has also observed reports of officials detaining Tibetans in the Yushu capital and elsewhere in the prefecture who refused to turn over property to the government. Official media reports disclosed in early 2011 that the government would rename the Yushu capital, rebuild it as an urban area, and route a new railway through it.

Concurrent with a nearly seven-fold increase in 2012 over 2011 in Tibetan self-immolations focused on political and religious issues—81 such immolations in 2012 compared to 12 in 2011—the Commission has observed reports of 2 Tibetans self-immolating in 2012 as property protests.

  • September 13, 2012. Pasang Lhamo, female, age 62, resident of the Yushu TAP capital. Pasang Lhamo reportedly traveled to Beijing and self-immolated there after local officials "refused to allow her to retain her ancestral home." Officials reportedly took her away and hospitalized her at an unknown location. See, e.g., Tibet Express, 4 January 13; Phayul, 25 January 13; and International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), 31 January 13.
  • June 27, 2012. Dekyi Choezom, female, age in 40s, resident of the Yushu TAP capital. Dekyi Choezom reportedly self-immolated after protesting "against the confiscation of her residence." Some local residents "believed" she protested against "Chinese land policy and the unfair allocation of land" after the April 14, 2010, Yushu earthquake (ICT, 9 April 11). Authorities reportedly extinguished the blaze and hospitalized her. See, e.g., Radio Free Asia (RFA), 2 July 12; 3 July 12; Free Tibet, 2 July 12.

An October 2012 Amnesty International (AI) report shows that property-related self-immolation is not unique to the Tibetan areas of China. The report detailed 41 instances of self-immolation as protest against forced eviction from property during the period February 13, 2009, to November 3, 2011. The self-immolations took place in a total of 19 provincial-level areas of China that did not include the Tibet Autonomous Region or Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. During the same period, there were 12 self-immolations in the Tibetan areas of China—all were in Sichuan province and all focused on political and religious issues. Eight of the 41 property protests AI documented reportedly were fatal, a mortality rate of approximately 20 percent. Of the 97 Tibetan self-immolations from February 27, 2009, to January 22, 2013, 84 reportedly were fatal, a mortality rate of approximately 86 percent.

The AI report noted that the frequency of self-immolation as property protest had increased sharply. Prior to the 41 cases in the report (spanning a period of approximately two years and nine months), "fewer than 10 such cases" were reported for the period from 1998 until 2009. AI described the rule of law and human rights environment in which the self-immolations took place in terms that, based on Commission observation, also are relevant to the Tibetan areas of China:

  • Barred from access to legal remedies, harassed or detained when they attempt to exercise their right to peacefully protest, and pushed aside by authorities who pursue development at all costs without soliciting their opinions, some Chinese have turned to a drastic form of protest—self-immolation.

In addition to the two Tibetan self-immolations as property protests, the Commission has observed recent reports of detentions of Tibetans in the Yushu area who protested against or objected to turning over their property to government officials.

  • January 19, 2013. Officials in Yushu TAP reportedly detained Gachoe, one of a group of Tibetans protesting against "confiscation of their farms and grassland" in Nangqian (Nangchen) county. Tibetans protested on January 23 outside the Nangqian public security bureau offices to demand Gachoe's release and the return of their property. (See Tibet Express, 23 January 13; Phayul, 25 January 13.) The PRC Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, Article 27, provides authority to local governments to "define the ownership of, and the right to use" grasslands, thereby "affecting economic conditions" of areas under their administration (according to the prepared statement of David L. Phillips at an April 11, 2005 Commission roundtable on ethnic autonomy).
  • September 12, 2012. Officials reportedly detained or "disappeared" Tibetan businessman Tashi in the Yushu TAP capital, around the time authorities seized his property in Yushu. Men entered Tashi's home about midnight while he was away and told family members that the home and other structures would be demolished. Officials detained Tashi's wife (Bode), son (Sherab Dorje), daughter (Yangzom), and Dzongsar Monastery monk Sonam Tobgyal when they objected. Bulldozers and a work crew razed the home, a hotel, and a shop, cleared the rubble, and fenced off the site by the next morning. (See RFA, 19 September 12; High Peaks Pure Earth, 2 October 12, providing a translation of a Tibetan-language blog post by Tibetan writer Jamyang Kyi).

The Commission's 2011 Annual Report (218-19) provided information on government plans for extensive post-quake rebuilding of the Yushu area and formally redesignating it as a "city," indicating that it would become the center of a substantial population and economy with a well-developed infrastructure. In April 2011 more than 300 Tibetans staged a sit-in protest, claiming that "authorities either sold or expropriated their property without providing 'appropriate' compensation."

For more information on Tibetan self-immolations believed to focus on political and religious issues, see the CECC 2012 Annual Report, 156-60; and Commission analysis in "Official Opinion Urges Criminal Prosecution of Persons Linked to Self-Immolations," 18 January 13; "Special Report: Tibetan Self-Immolation—Rising Frequency, Wider Spread, Greater Diversity, 22 August 12; and "Special Report: Tibetan Monastic Self-Immolations Appear To Correlate With Increasing Repression of Freedom of Religion," 23 December 11.