Image credit: Bert van Dijk.
As the number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in the last 18 months approaches triple figures, Chinese authorities have announced plans to charge anyone found to be “inciting” self-immolation with murder.
According to the Gannan Daily, a state-run newspaper in Gansu province, a joint legal opinion issued by China’s supreme court, prosecution body and police agreed that the charge of “intentional murder” could apply to anyone urging Tibetans to set themselves alight.
The official statement, translated by the San Francisco-based Duihua Foundation, argues that self-immolators aren’t like “the ordinary world-weary person who commits suicide. Their common motivation is to split the nation and they endanger public safety and social order, classifying their self-immolations as illegal criminal acts.”
The Opinion makes clear that those criminals who act as principal culprits behind the scenes to organize, direct, and plot [self-immolations], as well as those who actively participate in inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations, will be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law of the PRC and targeted for severe punishment in accordance with the law.
A large proportion of Tibetan monks and nuns who have self-immolated have been teenagers. It is desirable that those encouraging young people to burn themselves to death, either by actively supporting them or simply turning a blind eye to their plans, should be punished. While self-immolation might at one time have been an effective, if appalling, form of process, the number of protesters setting themselves on fire has grown to the extent that they barely register as news anymore. The Economist described the protests as “woefully counterproductive”, rather than cause the Chinese authorities to retreat or reduce their interference in the region, self immolations have led to a greater crackdown on Tibetan rights and culture.
It is highly unlikely however, that this law will be applied reasonably or proportionally. Almost certainly it will become yet another weapon in the armoury of oppression already brought to bear on Tibet. Chinese authorities have previously shown themselves willing to punish the families of self-immolators, this law will allow them to go even further. Nevertheless, while the Chinese authorities deserve the most blame for the crisis, Tibetan religious leaders inside the country (as opposed to the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Dalai Lama who have largely condemned the act of self-immolation) shown to be encouraging their disciples and parishioners to burn themselves to death should also shoulder some of the responsibility for the protesters’ painful and ultimately pointless deaths.