– By James Griffiths for the Globe and Mail
On Feb. 25, 2022, Tibetan pop star Tsewang Norbu walked to a monument in central Lhasa near the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama. Amid a crowd of tourists and commuters, he doused his body in fuel and set himself on fire.
Mr. Norbu, who had appeared on China’s version of The Voice, reportedly died in a hospital in the Tibetan capital a few days later, amid heavy security and an information blackout by Chinese media. Much about the 25-year-old’s self-immolation and death remains shrouded in mystery almost a year later.
“He was so well known all over Tibet and even China, and he self-immolated in front of at least a hundred people, all of whom had phones, but none of that information got out for weeks,” said Lobsang Gyatso, a researcher at the Tibet Action Institute (TAI), an NGO based in Dharamshala, India. “People knew somebody had self-immolated but they didn’t know it was him.”
Mr. Norbu is one of an estimated 160 Tibetans who have killed themselves in this manner since 2009, in protest against Beijing’s policies toward Chinese-controlled but nominally autonomous Tibet, which have grown increasingly draconian and assimilatory in recent decades. Self-immolations peaked in 2012 and 2013, in an initial wave that resulted in worldwide attention and a steady stream of gory, hard-to-look at images and videos.
But while such incidents have become rarer, they have not stopped entirely, and other protests and unrest also take place sporadically in Tibet, both over local issues and national frustrations, such as COVID-19 lockdowns. What has changed is the amount of information making it out, which researchers and activists say has slowed to a trickle in recent years, turning Tibet into more of a black hole than ever before and effectively expunging it from global coverage, despite attention paid to China being at an all-time high. Click here to read more.