Australia Tibet Council

Enabling everyone in Australia to be part of change in Tibet

Australia Silent as Tibetans Set Fire to Themselves in Protests

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Australia Tibet Council has called on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to publicly express the Australian government's concern about the recent self-immolations by Tibetans in Ngaba in China's Sichuan province.

Paul Bourke, the Tibet Council's Executive Officer said: "These desperate acts clearly show the anger and frustration towards Chinese government policies which deprive Tibetans of their human rights and religious freedom. China has responded with a heavy security crackdown. Australia remains silent."


Last week, a 20-year-old Tibetan nun became the first woman and the seventh person in a month to set themselves on fire[1]. A recent report by AFP, filmed in secret, shows Ngaba under a military-like occupation with armed riot and paramilitary police lined up along the main street[2].

"Australia's silence on the escalating situation in Ngaba strengthens the hand of the repressive, hardline elements in the Chinese government. We must call on China to show restraint and to address the legitimate concerns of the Tibetan people" said Paul Bourke.

Australia Tibet Council first wrote to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on 27 September[3] requesting he act on the situation by publicly expressing Australia's concern and send a representative from Australia's embassy in Beijing to assess the situation in Ngaba. Mr Rudd has remained silent and today we have renewed that call.[4]

At a press conference on Saturday, Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown said that the self-immolation of nine Tibetan monks and nuns this year, requires a response from Australia and other nations doing business with China. "Both Australia's major parties have leaders who want a free trade agreement with Beijing. Both should say how they will tackle the Tibetan people's agony."[5]

For further information:

Paul Bourke: 02 9283 3466
Tsering Kyinzom: 02 9283 3466

Notes to Editors

[1] Tibetan nun dies in protest near China monastery

[2] A secret video by AFP, the only media outlet to be able to travel to Ngaba in the wake of the immolations

[3] Australia Tibet Council's letter to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on 27 September

[4] Australia Tibet Council's letter to Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on 24 October,com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,83/

[5] Tibet tragedies Australian business

Summary of the escalating trend of self-immolation in Tibet Self-immolation is not a traditional form of protest in Tibet and appears to have evolved out of Tibetans' desperation to draw international attention to persistent and brutal violations of Tibetans' human rights by the Chinese government.

All those who have self-immolated this year are Buddhist monks, former monks and now, one nun. Five of those who set fire to themselves have died; the well-being and whereabouts of the other four remain unknown.

Eight of the nine self-immolations have taken place in Ngaba Town, eastern Tibet (Chinese: Aba Town, Aba County, Aba Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province), an area that has regularly seen tensions between local Tibetans and occupying Chinese state actors. In March 2008, 13 Tibetans were shot dead by Chinese security personnel. The first self-immolation this year took place on the third anniversary of that massacre.

China's disproportionate response to that first self-immolation in March this year has included the deployment of large numbers of paramilitary People's Armed Police to the area, arbitrary arrests, armed road blocks, house searches, interruption of internet, mobile and telephone communications. An estimated three hundred monks were forcibly removed from Kirti monastery, an enforced programme of 'patriotic re-education' ran at the monastery from March until August. Six monks have been sentenced in connection to the self-immolations in unfair trials. The number of monks in the monastery has fallen from an estimated 2,500 in March to an estimated 600 in October.

In Ngaba, internet cafes have been closed and SMS services remain cut. The area is closed to foreign journalists and human rights monitors, and Tibetans risk severe penalties, including life imprisonment for passing information to external contacts.