LHASA, Tibet, March 29 (UPI) -- The Dalai Lama has won the 2012 Templeton Prize in science and religion, days after a Tibetan man set himself afire in protest of Chinese rule.
The $1.7 million award for outstanding spiritual leadership was given to the Tibetan Buddhist leader Wednesday. Chinese officials blame him for the death of Jamphel Yeshi, 27, a Tibetan exiled in India. Yeshi set himself on fire Monday in a Delhi street to protest the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The British newspaper The Guardian reported Yeshi died in a hospital Wednesday after suffering burns to 97 percent of his body.
In a letter discovered after the incident, Yeshi wrote: "We [Tibetans] demand freedom to practice our religion and culture. We demand freedom to use our language. We demand the same rights as other people living elsewhere in the world."
The Chinese government has long blamed the Dalai Lama for instigating unrest among Tibetans, calling him a wolf in monk's robes. They have yet to remark on his winning the Templeton Prize, USA Today reported.
Since the 2008 Tibetan uprising was crushed, the Chinese government has imprisoned and exiled dissenters, mostly writers, monks and farmers. In the last year, some 30 Tibetans have set themselves afire in the hopes of inspiring an uprising akin to the Arab Spring.
Some say the Templeton Award is a sign the Dalai Lama is Tibet's only hope for some kind of resolution, a recognition that flies in the face of the Chinese government's claim he has inspired dissent and tragedy for more than 50 years.