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China Expands Crackdown on Tibet Immolations

In this photo taken on Dec. 25, 2012, portraits of Tibetans who have self-immolated over the past three years painted by Beijing-based artist Liu Yi are displayed at his studio in Songzhuang art village in Tongzhou, on the outskirts of Beijing.
A Chinese court has sentenced a man to 13 years in prison for "inciting" a Tibetan monk to set himself on fire, the latest in a series of government moves aimed at halting self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

The official Xinhua news agency Friday said the defendant, referred to as Phagpa, was found guilty of inciting a monk "to self-immolate for the freedom and independence of the Tibetan ethnic group." The court convicted him of "intentional homicide," even though the monk did not follow through with the suicide attempt.

Beijing recently has expanded its efforts to halt more than three years of self-immolations by nearly 100 Tibetans protesting what they say is Chinese repression of their culture and homeland. China denies the charges and says the suicide protests are acts of terrorism.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Last week, China convicted two Tibetans of intentional homicide for also "inciting" self-immolations - a charge some say is unfairly targeting Tibetan activists. On Thursday, state media reported that 70 people were detained in an ethnic Tibetan area of Qinghai province in connection with self-immolations.

China also has stepped up its government publicity campaign on the issue. This week, state media aired a documentary accusing U.S.-funded broadcasters, including the Voice of America, of encouraging Tibetan protesters to set themselves on fire. It also said, without providing evidence, that VOA was using a secret code in its news stories to communicate with those inside the heavily guarded region.

VOA Director David Ensor
VOA Director David Ensor
VOA Director David Ensor called the allegations "absurd."

"These self-immolations stories are tragic, they are a sign of distress in Tibet. We report about them, we certainly don't encourage them," Ensor said.

When asked by a VOA reporter Friday about whether the Chinese government shares the views of the CCTV documentary, a foreign ministry spokesperson declined to answer, saying Beijing's position on the problem is clear.

Tibet scholar John Masters of Australia National University tells VOA that unsubstantiated accusations such as the one lodged against VOA are not uncommon for the Chinese government.

"If you look at the history of Chinese propaganda, one of the core elements is finding outside forces to demonize," Masters said.. "And this sells very well in China because of the pervasive sense of national humiliation, that they have been badly wronged by foreigners over the past 150 years or so."

Masters says unrest in Tibetan areas of China is likely to continue because China is "locked in a single mode" of dealing harshly with Tibetan concerns.

"They keep repeating the same types of activities over and over and over again, with the same result -- increased tension and increased unrest. And yet they don't seem to ever rethink the strategy or wonder whether they might try something else," he said.

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