Tibetan poet and writer Tsering Woeser has used her blog, "Invisible Tibet," together with her poetry, historical research, and social media platforms like Twitter to give voice to millions of ethnic Tibetans who are prevented from expressing themselves to the outside world by government curbs on information. Woeser continues to document Tibetan life under Chinese Communist Party rule in the Himalayan region. In a recent commentary, she focuses on commemorating the Tibetans who died or were injured through self-immolation in 2014:
Eleven Tibetans set themselves alight in 2014, driven by determined protest and urgent desire, and we, as their fellow humans, should bear this in mind.
The 11 Tibetans inside Tibet who self-immolated consisted of four herdsmen, four monks and nuns, a farmer, a car-wash owner and a student. Two were women and nine were men, of whom three were fathers. The oldest was 42 years old and the youngest 19. Two were seriously injured, but the other nine made the ultimate sacrifice.
From Feb. 27, 2009 to Dec. 23, 2014, there have been 135 self-immolations in Tibetan territory, and five among Tibetans living in exile overseas. Of these, 21 were women.
In total, 119 people have lost their lives, of whom 116 were inside Tibet and three outside Tibet.
In terms of timing, two of the 11 self-immolation protests happened last February, three in March, one from April onwards, then two more starting in September, and three in December.
Geographically speaking, they were still mainly concentrated in the in Amdo and Kham [Tibetan] regions. Of these, three were in the Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, two were in the Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, three were in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, one in Amdo's Gade County, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province, one in the Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province and one in Gansu's Xiahe County, Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
The 11 Tibetans who self-immolated were: Phagmo Samdrub, herder, 27, died; Lobsang Dorje, 25, car-wash owner, died; Jigme Tenzin, 28, monk, died; Lobsang Palden, 23, monk, died; Drolma, 31, nun, injured; Thinley Namgyal, 32, farmer, died; Konchok, 42, herder, injured; Lhamo Tashi, 22, student, died; Sangye Khar, 34, herder, died; Tsepe Drolma, 19, herder, died; and Kalsang Yeshe, 37, monk, died.
The photographs and video that emerged of these 11 Tibetans, either during their lifetime, or of the scene of their self-immolation, did so at great personal risk to local Tibetans from the area, including suicide notes left by Kirti monk Lobsang Palden and by Tawu farmer Thinley Namgyal. Many Tibetans were actually arrested.
Hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested, fined, sentenced or otherwise severely punished by the authorities for disclosing the circumstances of more than 100 Tibetan self-immolations to the outside world. And yet many Tibetans remain fearless in the face of oppression, and continue to spread the news of self-immolation protests, so the outside world will understand the real situation in Tibet.
On the video that was shot on Feb. 13, 2014 of the self-immolation of Lobsang Dorje, you can see him hunkered down on the ground, his hands clasped together, as the flames engulf his motionless body. The Tibetans around him have fled out of fear, and yet other people are crying, and you can hear the sound of Tibetan prayers.
In another example on March 16, 2014, the suicide note of Lobsang Palden mainly focuses on his gratitude to his mother for raising him and exhortations to his fellow humans to do good deeds, as well as a call for unity between the ethnic groups, especially unity and mutually beneficial coexistence with the Han Chinese.
Expressions of memorials
Many other Tibetans have made open expressions of memorials, such as this caption written in Tibetan under one of the photographs of a self-immolation: "Our compatriot in Tawu, Thinley Namgyal, has set fire to his own body in support of the Tibetan people. He is a hero of our people, and we express our deepest condolences."
And then there is this poem written by Meruba, a student at the Northwestern Ethnic Minorities University:
Who is burning themselves in the dark? Their final energy shines like snow. What is the dedication in these flames? The last love left on the plateau. Who is this heroic messenger, this embodiment of truth? You are gone, yet your body becomes prayer, becomes truth, spread out in the snow. You leave behind all oppression and pain. You leave, yet millions pray with you.
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Editor's note: To date, RFA counts 136 self-immolations by Tibetans in China since 2009, and six in Nepal and India.