2012: A year of unprecedented protests

Thursday, 20 December 2012
Sangye Dolma who set herself on fire in November.

Tibetans have been protesting against the Chinese oppressive regime on a scale never seen before.

Tibetans of all ages, men and women, monks and laypeople, have expressed their dissatisfaction and frustration with the Chinese occupation of their nation. Of the nearly 100 Tibetans who have set themselves of fire in protest, over 80 have happened this year.

Shooting of protestors

The year started with a violent response to protests by the Chinese security police. On 23 January, police opened fire on a large gathering in Draggo, injuring around 30 Tibetans and killing at least one person, Norpa Yonten, a 49 year old herder.

This heavy handed response has become a too common consequence of protests in Tibet. Even peaceful acts of protests are met by police brutality and torture.

Disproportionate sentencing

Jigme Dolma is one of the young Tibetans sent to prison simply for exercising her right to peaceful protest. On 24 June, Jigme Dolma went out on her own, shouting slogans for the return of the Dalai Lama and scattering leaflets. After only a few minutes she was surrounded by security police, beaten and arrested. She was later given three years in prison.

Other Tibetans have been given similar harsh sentences for simply sharing information about protests, or being associated with a person who have self-immolated.

Mass protests

This year has seen the largest gatherings of Tibetans since the 2008 protests. In March, monks and laypeople gathered in Rongwo Town following the self-immolation of Sonam Dargye. Chinese security police arrived to disperse the crowds but had to back down due to the number of protestors.

In November, up to 5000 students marched the streets of Rebkong, bringing traffic to a standstill. They were demanding equality and language rights for Tibetans and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Many more demonstrations and gatherings have taken place in all parts of Tibet this year.

Personal testimonies

Some of the Tibetans who have set themselves on fire have left moving testimonies to explain their actions.

Sonam and Choephak Kyap, both in their 20s, set fire to themselves on 19 April in Barma Township in Ngaba County. They left a voice recording urging Tibetans to: “Diligently preserve your culture and do not lose your dignity. Remain united as one.”

"The suffering Tibetan people experience due to the denial of our freedom is much greater than the suffering of setting my body on fire,” they said.

In November, Sangye Dolma set fire to herself and died in Dokarmo Township. She left a photo of herself with the words “Tibet is an independent country” written on her hand. She also left this message:

“Sons and daughters of Tibet, the darlings of Snow lion,
The brave sons of Tibet,
Remember you are Tibetan.”

Dying for freedom

An unprecedented number of Tibetans have chosen to protest by setting themselves on fire. During 2012, eight young people under the age of 18 have protested this way. Of these, four died and the conditions of the others are unknown.

This year also saw the first triple self-immolation when three teenage monks set fire to themselves in Eastern Tibet. 15-year-old Dorjee, who died, and 16 year-olds Samdup and Dorjee Kyab called for freedom in Tibet and for the return of the Dalai Lama.

Protests continuing

There are no signs that the current level of protest is about to diminish, and the punitive Chinese response may generate more Tibetan action.

Tibetans are determined to make their voices heard, and the international community has an obligation to listen and, more importantly, act.

Find out more about the Tibet Spring and the reasons behind the protest.

Take action

Intercontinental Hotels wants to build and operate a huge new resort in Lhasa. This tells the world that the situation is normal in Tibet – it isn’t. Email Intercontinental and ask them to leave Tibet:

Find other ways to take action for Tibet.