From December 16 to December 23, three self-immolations took place in Tibet. Sangye Khar, a man in his mid-thirties; Tseypey, a nineteen years old woman; and Kalsang Yeshe, a man believed to be in his mid-thirties.
Overall, in 2014, there were 11 self-immolations in Tibet. These self-immolations, like the other 125 to have taken place since 2009, did not injure anyone else. No Chinese official, business or passerby has ever been hurt by these tragic sacrifices, which have sought to try to bring the attention of the outside world to the situation in Tibet and to ask for the return of the Dalai Lama.
Despite these deliberate choices to carefully avoid hurting anybody or anything, over 100 Tibetans (many of them friends or family of the self-immolators) have been sentenced to prison terms for “inciting” or “cooperating” with self-immolators, adding shades of illegal and repulsive collective punishment to these tragic losses.
Thinking about the sense of loss and of desperation suffered by the communities and families of these Tibetan men and women is deeply saddening and should be a wake-up call for all of us: we must tell China that enough is enough.
Notably, in 2014, almost all 11 self-immolations took place near either a local government office or a local police station. Clearly, these people decided to make the ultimate sacrifice of renouncing their life by leaving behind a message, and in some cases images, that could be noticed by Chinese authorities and become public.
Knowing that information in China is tightly controlled and censored, the only hope they had was that it reached and is being reported outside, through all possible means.
This is why I was shocked when I read Woeser’s account that on December 26, Facebook deleted her post about the self-immolation of the Tibetan man Kelsang Yeshe.
The purely “technical” explanation provided by Facebook does not stand to scrutiny for the simple reason that respecting freedom of expression (as clearly is in this case of a tragic political action) can never be overruled by inconsistently applied “graphic” concerns.
The whole story becomes even more worrying when we consider the way the video was removed just a few weeks after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg welcomed Lu Wei to the Facebook campus in California. Lu Wei is the Chinese internet “Czar” who oversees the immense censorship system Beijing has developed in China, a man Zuckerberg may be courting if he hopes to open Facebook operations in China.
We do not need nor want Chinese government censorship practices to be exported to Facebook or any other social network. This is now becoming a real concern, not just an idle worry.
And this is why at the International Campaign for Tibet we have launched a petition to call on Facebook to stop blocking images of Tibetan self-immolations, especially if the users are posting them (with many technical difficulties) from within China, as Woeser does.
Censorship from the free world would be the ultimate offense to these courageous people who are trying to bring justice and freedom to places where people do not now enjoy them.
As Aung San Su Skyi once said: “Please use your freedoms to promote ours”.
Now, dear friends, is the time to do it. Please sign our petition and support the International Campaign for Tibet in giving a voice to these Tibetan men and women.