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China's Tibetan Buddhists 'in vicious cycle'
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 13, 2012

Twitter co-founder complains of Chinese blocking
Las Vegas (AFP) Jan 12, 2012 - Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey arrived on a visit to China on Thursday and complained of the blocking of his popular service in an online exchange with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

"Hello, Shanghai. Twitter is blocked here in China so I can't read any tweets," Dorsey wrote on his Twitter feed @jack, which has 1.8 million followers.

"Welcome to land of no twitter!" Ai responded on @aiww, where he has over 119,000 followers.

"Yes, it's unfortunate and disappointing," said Dorsey, the executive chairman of San Francisco-based Twitter.

"We really miss you here," Ai said. "Have a nice rest, (and) enjoy shanghai...a city without culture, but a lot of money.

"Let's make sure China has access to Twitter sooner than North Korea," Ai said in a final tweet to the Twitter co-founder.

Ai's activism has made him a thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities and he disappeared into custody for 81 days last year as police rounded up dissidents and lawyers amid online calls for Arab-style protests in China.

Upon his release in June, the artist was charged with tax evasion. His case is currently being reviewed by the Beijing tax bureau.

Twitter and Facebook are among the social networking services blocked in China, which has half a billion Internet users, the world's largest online population.

China's Tibetan Buddhists are locked in a "vicious cycle" of radicalisation as an intensifying government crackdown spurs them to increasingly desperate acts of protest, rights groups say.

At least 15 Tibetans have set fire to themselves over the last year. Most have been young monks in their teens or early 20s, but the last self-immolation was perpetrated by a high-ranking Buddhist cleric for the first time.

Sonam Wangyal, reported to be in his 40s, who set himself on fire in the northwestern province of Qinghai on Sunday, was known as a "living Buddha" -- the reincarnation of a line of high-ranking lamas.

Experts say suicide is a major taboo in Tibetan Buddhist culture, and that the senior monk would have been "acutely aware" of the ramifications of his self-immolation for his reincarnation.

"The self-immolation of a living Buddha will confer legitimacy on this kind of protest... It marks an escalation, it is a very worrying trend," Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

"You are going to see more of this. These acts of protests come from a reaction from too much control, but the (government) response is to bring even more repression and control.

"This is the definition of a vicious cycle of radicalisation."

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has expressed concern over the wave of self-immolations, which he blamed on the "cultural genocide" of Tibetans under Chinese rule.

At least nine of the 15 Tibetans who have set themselves alight over the last year have died, while the whereabouts of the others remains unknown as they have disappeared into custody, rights groups say.

Bequelin said the increasingly widespread use of mobile phones and the Internet -- while tightly controlled in Tibetan-inhabited areas -- is also helping spur self-immolations by providing a platform to publicise them.

"This is religious news that has travelled far and wide, it is big news being actively discussed," he told AFP.

"We can see the debate ripple through the community-in-exile -- they are debating whether it is legitimate or not for a good Tibetan to commit suicide."

China blames the Dalai Lama -- who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and is vilified as a "separatist" by Communist authorities -- for much of the unrest in Tibetan-inhabited regions.

The government denies it uses repressive methods against Tibetans, insisting that they enjoy freedom of religious belief and that huge ongoing investment into Tibetan-inhabited areas has greatly raised their standard of living.

But after each self-immolation, authorities have increased security in the area where the incident occurred, which rights groups say has exacerbated the problem.

Hours after Sonam Wangyal's self-immolation, the official Xinhua news agency said senior officials in the region of Tibet had "pledged stepped-up efforts to strengthen the management of monasteries in the fight against the Dalai Lama group".

Officials were urged "to push forward the patriotic and legal education among monks and nuns... and dissuade them from being duped by separatist forces", it said.

"This unprecedented wave of self-immolations is the ultimate rejection of Chinese rule in Tibet," Tenzin Dorjee, director of the New York-based Students for a Free Tibet, told AFP.

"In each of these incidents, the individual carrying out the act of self-immolation has demanded freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama."

In an indication of the level of concern over the issue, security forces in Aba -- a county in the southwestern province of Sichuan where most of the self-immolations have occurred -- now carry fire extinguishers with them.

In November, China's public security minister travelled to Aba in Sichuan where he visited the Kirti Monastery -- a flashpoint for the incidents -- and urged monks to be patriotic, state media reported.

Tenzin Lhunzub, a Beijing-based Tibetan scholar at the China Tibetology Research Centre, said self-immolation was an "extreme and negative way of dealing with things".

"It is not a tradition and it is not in our culture," he added.

Despite these concerns, three self-immolations have already occurred since the beginning of the year.

"There appears to be a direct correlation between increasing Communist Party repression of Tibetan Buddhism and... the self-immolations," Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the US-based International Campaign for Tibet, told AFP.

"For Tibetans, this is a life and death struggle at a dark time in their history, and the self-immolations indicate their resolve as well as their anguish."

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Protests after Tibetan killed in China police raid
Beijing (AFP) Jan 13, 2012 - A Tibetan man in China suspected of stealing tents from the construction site of a remote airport was shot dead in a police raid, sparking a violent protest, state media and a rights group said.

The incident is the latest to hit Tibetan-inhabited areas of China, where tensions are high following a spate of self-immolations triggered by perceived religious repression.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, the suspect was accidentally shot after being apprehended in the early hours of January 9 over the alleged robbery in Xiahe county in the northwestern province of Gansu.

The report Thursday said he grabbed a police officer's gun, which went off and injured him. He later died from his injuries, and an officer was also injured during the incident, it added.

But Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), said the man -- a Tibetan in his mid-30s called Gurgo Tsering -- was killed when police fired a gun through the window of his friend's house.

Citing exiled Tibetan sources, she said police detained another man suspected of participating in the robbery, and that there was no evidence either had been involved.

Xinhua said the shooting sparked a protest in the township of Amuquhu, where the incident occurred.

Citing local sources, Radio Free Asia said Tibetans ransacked the town's police station. Security forces were called in and they used tear gas to contain the protests, with many injured and detained.

Police in Xiahe county were not immediately available for comment, and authorities in Xiahe and Amuquhu refused to discuss the issue when contacted by AFP.

According to ICT, the new civilian airport currently being built in Amuquhu has sparked huge tensions in the area, as it is near a mountain regarded as sacred by Tibetans.

The incident adds to growing tensions in Tibetan-inhabited areas in China, where at least 15 people have set fire to themselves in less than a year.

The exiled Dalai Lama has condemned self-immolations, which many Buddhists believe is contrary to their faith, but said recently Tibetans faced "cultural genocide" under hardline Chinese rule that he blamed for the protests.

China, though, insists Tibetans enjoy freedom of religion and says it has raised the standard of living for many Tibetans.


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Police raid prominent Chinese dissident's flat
Beijing (AFP) Jan 12, 2012
One of China's most prominent dissidents said Thursday police interrogated him for eight hours and raided his flat while his four-year-old daughter was present, warning him not to write comments online. Police swooped on Hu Jia, 38, because of his recent remarks concerning the fate of other dissidents including jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, he told AFP. Hu was released ... read more

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