High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on December 20, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on December 26, 2012.
In this blogpost, Woeser highlights foreign media reporting on the self-immolations in Tibet, specifically efforts by French journalists to travel in Tibet and visit areas directly affected by self-immolations and subsequent crackdowns. For French readers, the Le Monde article “Voyage à travers le Tibet persécuté, sur la route des immolés” of December 25, 2012, can be read here: http://www.lemonde.fr/a-la-une/article/2012/12/25/voyage-a-travers-le-tibet-persecute-sur-la-route-des-immoles_1810159_3208.html
This is the news report about self-immolations in Tibet published by “Le Monde” on October 28, 2012. The “Le Monde” journalist went to Kardze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, to conduct interviews and on August 15, 2012, he even went to Tawu County, the home of the self-immolator Tsewang Norbu.
This is the news report about self-immolations in Tibet published by “Le Nouvel Observateur” on December 12, 2012. Picture 1 shows the 58-year-old herdsman Dorjee Rinchen self-immolating in Sangchu County, Kanlho Prefecture, Gansu Province on October 23, 2012. Picture 2 shows the 23-year-old woman Tenzin Dolma on a pilgrimage to Lhasa before she self-immolated on November 15, 2012.
“Foreign Media Visit Sites of Self-Immolations to Conduct Interviews”
On one very cold afternoon, the weather in Beijing was as terrible as always, we were sitting in a corner of some coffee shop, spending the entire time talking about the land of ice and snow, the snow region, the plateau. In front of our eyes we saw the flames igniting, in our ears we heard the sounds of Tibetan cries brought to us by the flames. We simultaneously felt respect, sympathy and grief, but above all we felt pain. Because every single one of those people that bathed their bodies in the flames were our fellow compatriots.
With me were a French journalist from “Le Monde” and a few of his friends. They had come back to Beijing two evenings before, returned from four full days in Labrang and Luchu of Amdo, which would be Sangchu County and Luchu County of Kanlho Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province according to the current administrative subdivisions of China. They were eager to tell me that they visited the hometowns of three Tibetans who had self-immolated in November last year.
The “Le Monde” journalist unfolded a map and pointed at the town of Amchok, the town of Sangke and the town of Ala, telling me what they experienced day and night in these remote towns that were brimming over with military police and Party cadres. Even though they had been uninvited strangers, they received great help from the local herdsmen and were secretly taken at great risk to the families of the self-immolators who told them about the increasingly difficult situation.
Indeed, this action was extremely dangerous. Two months before, the Kanlho Public Security Bureau had issued a notice in Tibetan and Mandarin, requesting the “manipulators behind the curtain” of the self-immolation incidents as well as all clues and leads to be reported, promising generous monetary rewards. This notice was put up in all of the towns and villages of the one city and seven counties of Kanlho Prefecture. The local authorities even sent out a text message with the same content on a daily basis, stating that the reward would be between RMB 50,000 and RMB 200,000. Many village entrances and monasteries had been equipped with cameras and Party cadres took turns to drive around in a vehicle day and night to check whether any Tibetans may be self-immolating. The ironic fact is that in the 7 months before the notice had been put up, 6 people self-immolated in Kanlho; after the notice had been issued, within only one month, 14 Tibetans self-immolated.
The number of secretly arrested Tibetans has been increasing, too. On November 26, 2012, the herdsman Gonpo Tsering from Ala Town sacrificed himself, 10 days later, his father and paternal grandfather were taken away by the security bureau and remain missing until the present day. A girl who happened to witness one of the self-immolations was also taken away. Yet, despite of this “red terror”, there are still many Tibetans who visit the families of the self-immolators, donating money and goods and to pay respect. One family of the two self-immolators from Sangke Town was extremely poor, they only owned four yaks and less than twenty sheep, but through donations they received over RMB 100,000. His mother, however, decided to donate the entire sum to the monastery and the school. His two little children, so she said, should be raised through their physical labour.
These are all first-hand information about self-immolations obtained by the journalist from “Le Monde” from his secret visit to Tibet; without doubt, these are very important information. Other media outlets that put up with such difficulties to enter the self-immolation areas to interview people were the French newspaper “Libération”, the French weekly publication “Le Nouvel Observateur”, the Associated Press, the American Times, the Australian ABC TV and others. I have previously met journalists from “Libération” and “Le Nouvel Observateur” who had both been to Rebgong in Amdo and who had both brought back accurate and precious sets of photos. The first time they went in April 2012 to visit the hometown of the self-immolator Sonam Dargye . The second time was in November 2012 when they visited the hometown of the self-immolator Tenzin Dolma. Originally, they also wanted to visit the hometown of another self-immolator but they were expelled by armed plainclothes when they reached the village entrance.
Entering these areas is getting more difficult every time. In view of the current reality of the Chinese government tightly controlling and sealing up the entire Tibetan region, these foreign journalists spared no efforts to try to cross this iron net and find out about the situation of self-immolations.
Despite of this, the Han Chinese writer Ding Yifu who is now a US citizen explained why he wrote in his recent article “Remaining silent… with regards to the problem of self-immolation”: “the silence first and foremost comes from the media. Up to the present day, not a single media outlet has gone to the actual sites where the self-immolations happen, not a single journalist has interviewed the family and friends of self-immolators, not one single detailed report has been published about the people who self-immolated.” And he continued to confidently write, “I want to ask why the international media has collectively lost their drive for action?”
This kind of criticism turns out to be untrue and is also irresponsible.