Over the last three years, about 80 Tibetans have reportedly committed suicide by self-immolation (setting themselves on fire) to protest Chinese rule of the region. While the history between Tibet and China is complex and spans centuries, it is very clear there is a serious human rights issue today caused by repressive Chinese rule in Tibet.
I visited Tibet, including the capital city of Lhasa, for about ten days in May 2011. It was apparent to me that China rules Tibet with a strong hand despite the population being predominantly Buddhist, a religion known for its peacefulness. At almost every location I visited, Chinese military and riot police units were very visible and prepared to quickly and forcefully dispel protests of any kind. It is perhaps most telling that the most religious site in Tibet, the beautiful Jokhang Monastery at the eastern edge of Barkhor Square in Lhasa's old section, is often a focal point for Tibetan protests for basic human rights followed by violent Chinese repression.
But why would a peaceful people feel the need to protest and commit suicide in such a dramatic manner? The Chinese government argues that it is improving the quality of life in Tibet by providing better health care and investing in better infrastructure. However, it is coming at a very high cost for Tibetans as their rights and unique culture continue to be restricted and repressed by the occupying Chinese forces. The ongoing self-immolations are an obvious cry for help for the international community to pressure China to relax its rule of the region, and to treat the Tibetan people with some minimum level of decency and respect.
Suicide is not condoned by most interpretations of Buddhist doctrine, so the self-immolations, many by monks and nuns, clearly demonstrate that the Tibetan people can no longer tolerate their living conditions. I ask you to learn more about this issue (a basic online search for "Tibet and human rights" will give you a good start) and then email or write your Senators and Congressman to bring more visibility to the conditions in Tibet. By letting your voice be heard, perhaps we can improve basic human rights in the region and finally end self-immolation in Tibet.