China policy on Tibetan freedom of religion may face change as self-immolations continue

Carla Friedman – WNN Religion & Belief

Tibetan monks protest Rongwo monastery in Rebkong, Amdo (Chinese: Huangnan Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Tongren County, Qinghai)
As tensions between Chinese government security forces and Tibetans in the region rise, Tibetan monks protest in Dolma Square in the Rongwo monastery in Renbkong Amdo (Chinese: Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Tongren County, Qinghai) following a self-immolation attempt by 36-year-old monk Jamyang Palden in March 2012. Since this time self-immolations have continued throughout the Tibetan autonomous region. Some of the deaths have been blamed by the Chinese government on “psychological instability and personal troubles” says Chinese officials. Image: VOAvideo

(WNN) Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA: A Tibetan woman has died after drinking acid and performing self-immolation in the Tibetan region of the western Chinese province of Gansu after she was accused of embezzlement at the bank where she worked, a source close to the family said.

Jamyang Metok, 25, died on Saturday after drinking sulfuric acid and setting herself on fire at the front entrance of the ICBC – Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Kanlho (in Chinese known as the Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, said sources close to the family.

Despite increases in self-immolations in the region, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, has been reluctant to respond to queries regarding the rising tide of self-immolations in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In lieu of the delicate political ramifications on the issue, the Dalai Lama has chosen to remain visibly neutral, but he has acknowledged the suffering of Tibetans under the system as it exists today. He has also formally relinquished his political duties to the elected Tibetan leadership in exile.

“I will not give encouragement to these acts, these drastic actions, but it is understandable and indeed very, very sad,” said the Dalai Lama in a recent interview with Reuters news. “Now the Chinese government, they should investigate what are the real causes. They can easily blame me or some Tibetans but that won’t help solve the problem,” added the Dalai Lama.

Discrimination of indigenous Tibetans in the PRC – People’s Republic of China has created ongoing struggles and problems in the region.

“The evidence of discrimination against Tibetans generally, combined with specific examples of discrimination against Tibetan women, create a concern that Tibetan woman suffer not only discrimination as Tibetans, but also as women,” says a 2010 report by The Tibet Justice Center, which works with the United Nations through the Tibet Bureau in Geneva.

“She worked at the local branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank in Tianzhu county” outlined the unnamed Tibetan source familiar with the case in the death of Jamyang Metok. “After she got back from a holiday…in Guangdong, the head of the ICBC branch accused her of embezzling money, and of misuse of public funds.”

“This woman all of a sudden swallowed sulfuric acid and set fire to her clothes,” the source said. “She died on the spot, right there at the main door of the bank.”

“She said she wasn’t guilty of corruption…but the branch boss tried to pin this crime on her, and she tried to protest, but to no avail… …I don’t know whether she was corrupt or not, but I don’t think such a young person would drink sulfuric acid if it wasn’t a set-up,” continued the Tibetan source.

Jamyang Metok was a native of Huirui district and a graduate of the Qinghai Nationalities Institute, the source said. Her father’s name is Drongre and her mother’s name is Jomo Tsering.

Government denials

Despite protests and self-immolations, the official Chinese government response to the demands of Tibetans continues to go with little ‘official’ acknowledgement of the needs for religious freedom in the region.

“No matter how the Chinese government attempts to present the cycle of self-immolations to the international community, such explanation will be met with deep skepticism so long as access to Tibetan areas, particularly where self-immolations took place, is denied to impartial observers such as members of the press, and representatives of international bodies such as the United Nations,” said Kalon Dicki Chhoyang of the Department of Information & International Relations for the Central Tibetan Administration in May this year.

An employee who answered the phone at the ICBC branch in Tianzhu following the death of Jamyang Metok denied the incident had taken place. “No, no, no, I never heard of this,” the employee said. “No, no, this never happened…I can guarantee this 100 percent, and other people will back me up… …There are a lot of rumors flying around right now…making stuff up out of nothing,” they continued.

Jamyang Metok’s uncle also declined to answer questions “hanging up the phone immediately after being asked about his niece,” says RFA – Radio Free Asia after they attempted to make direct contact with Metok’s uncle.

An official who answered the phone at the Gansu provincial ruling Chinese Communist Party committee complaints office declined to comment. “I don’t really know about this…everyone’s in a big meeting this morning, so perhaps you could call again tomorrow,” the official said.

Before Metok’s suicide, 51 Tibetans have set fire to themselves since February 2009. Most have done so in protest against Chinese rule as they have called for religious freedom and rights in recognizing the Dalai Lama as their ‘spiritual leader.’

New hope is now building among the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile that a softening in the policy toward Tibetan religious freedom may be coming in with Xi Jinping, the man who is set to step in as China’s new upcoming president. Xi’s deceased father, Xi Zhongxun, did have what Reuters news recently describes as “a close bond” with the Dalai Lama going back to the 1950s when Xi’s father, a former Vice-Premier, accepted a gold watch from the spiritual leader.

Xi Jinping’s wife has also acknowledged that she is a Buddhist, which may bring the cause of religious understanding and tolerance, with acceptance of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, up to a more open standard than Chinese government policies of the past.

Following Jamyang Metok’s funeral on Monday, her family scattered her ashes on Tashi Longwa mountain. It was unclear whether Jamyang’s suicide had any political motivation beyond the dispute with her boss. Any ties Metok may have had to the struggles within the Free Tibet movement is unknown at this time.


WNN reporter Carla Friedman is currently completing an in-depth feature for WNN, with Nepal correspondent Punita Rimal, covering the continuing effects of the Maoist conflict on the women of Nepal. Portions of this report on the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture have been made by Qiao Long for RFA‘s Mandarin news service. Translated and written in English in part by Luisetta Mudie.


2012 WNN – Women News Network