Dalai Lama questions self-immolation

The 14th Dalai Lama, who questioned the usefulness of self-immolation in protests. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg
The 14th Dalai Lama, who questioned the usefulness of self-immolation in protests. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo

NEW DELHI, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The Dalai Lama said he doesn't encourage self-immolation by monks and nuns protesting China's control over Tibet and questions the usefulness of the acts as a protest tool.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the 76-year-old Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader denied accusations by Chinese authorities that he is actively encouraging Tibetans to set themselves on fire in public places.


He said "the question is how much effect" the self-immolations have on the Chinese authorities and their more than 50 years of rule in Tibet.

"There is courage -- very strong courage" by the people who set themselves on fire. "But how much effect? Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilize your wisdom."

He said many Tibetans of all walks of life have died for a more free Tibet and the Chinese authorities response is to clamp down harder on the population.


"Nobody knows how many people (are) killed and tortured -- I mean death through torture. Nobody knows," he said. "But a lot of people suffer. But how much effect? The Chinese respond harder."

The BBC also received smuggled video footage of one person dying on a crowded Tibetan street. Some of the video has been posted on the BBC Web site. It shows a burning person prostrate on the sidewalk as crowds gather with people screaming and apparently not knowing what to do.

Much of video hasn't been published due to its graphic nature, the BBC said.

Earlier this month a Tibetan nun became the latest person to die from self-immolation.

Qiu Xiang, 35, was from a nunnery in Dawu county of Garze in Sichuan province, a brief report the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said.

It was unclear why she killed herself and local authorities are investigating, Xinhua said.

Qiu was the 11th person to set herself on fire this year, although not all have died.

Some have been teenagers, such as two Tibetans who were believed to be former monks at Kirti monastery in China's Sichuan province. They set themselves on fire in the center of the market town Ngaba, called Aba by the Chinese, as a protest against Chinese rule, said Free Tibet, a Tibetan independence group, which has headquarters in London.


One of the teenagers died of his injuries.

The Dalai Lama previously called for Tibetans to remain calm and said he doesn't condone self-immolation, although he has never condemned the act, believing the people who do it are desperate for change.

One of the Dalai Lama's most harsh condemnations of Chinese rule came during his visit to Japan at the beginning of this month.

Tibetans setting themselves on fire are protesting Beijing's "cultural genocide" policy in Tibet, the Dalai Lama said.

"Chinese communist propaganda creates a very rosy picture. But actually, including many Chinese from mainland China who visit Tibet, they all have the impression things are terrible," he said. "Some kind of policy, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place."

Chinese authorities consider the Dalai Lama a terrorist and blame him for fomenting independence movements within Tibet, as well as encouraging self-immolation.

Beijing and the Dalai Lama have been at loggerheads since he fled Tibet soon after the Chinese army marched into Tibet in the late 1950s. The Dalai Lama and many of his followers have been living in exile in northern India.

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