When Lobsang Gendun set himself on fire on December 3 in the Qinghai province of China, the 29-year-old monk became the 92nd Tibetan to self-immolate since February 2009 in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.
For Vancouver activist Mati Bernabei, it’s a sign that the situation in Tibet isn’t getting any better. Bernabei is the president of Vancouver chapter of the Canada Tibet Committee, a group planning two protest actions in front of the Chinese consulate (3380 Granville Street) on Monday (December 10), coinciding with the international observance of Human Rights Day.
“The Chinese government’s response to the self-immolations has been a further crackdown, rather than a more sensitive hearing of the reasons behind why people are getting to that level of desperation,” Bernabei told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to the local high-school teacher, self-immolations appear to be on the rise.
Based on Bernabei’s count and that of the Washington, D.C.–based International Campaign for Tibet, 28 Tibetans burned themselves in November alone. A day before Gendun’s fatal self-immolation, another Tibetan, Sungdue Kyab, set himself on fire. According to ICT, Kyab reportedly survived his burns.
The Chinese consulate in Vancouver did not respond to a call by the Straight before deadline.
According to Bernabei, the phenomenon of self-immolation is a difficult matter for Tibetans because the Buddhist faith doesn’t condone any form of violence, including violence against one’s self.
The impact of the self-immolations will be felt at the Monday rally outside the Chinese consulate from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the candlelight vigil starting at 5 p.m.
“The emotion is a combination of honouring and respecting the people who have taken such extreme action—honouring and respecting their motivation—while trying not to honour the method,” Bernabei said.
While such self-immolations are acts of “political resistance against an oppressive power”, Bernabei added: “We’re also pleading to Tibetans not to harm themselves.”