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21 November 2011

I am saddened and deeply concerned about the recent instances of self-immolation by young Tibetans in eastern Tibet. Ten Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March this year in a desperate bid to bring attention to the severe repression of Tibetan religion and culture. Five young Tibetans, including one nun, have died as a result of their injuries. The condition and whereabouts of the remaining four are unknown. Seven of the Tibetans are linked to Kirti monastery, an important Tibetan religious institution which was active during the uprisings of 2008.

The first immolation took place on 16 March, the third anniversary of a protest at Kirti monastery during which Chinese forces shot and killed 13 Tibetan monks. China reacted by further increasing security, stepping up “patriotic education” campaigns and restricting the religious activities of the monks. This is resulting in an escalating cycle of protest and crackdown. The ongoing level of repression has driven these young Tibetans to this final desperate act.

We have already seen the first self-immolation outside the Ngaba area in the Tibetan town of Kardze. Unless the issue is addressed there is a danger of these fatal protests spreading further.

The Australian government raised its concerns with the Chinese government on 19 October in both Beijing and in Canberra. I hope the government continues to call on China, including through the bilateral human rights dialogue, to enter into meaningful negotiations with the Tibetan representatives to address the underlying causes of ethnic tensions in Tibet, noting that economic development must be accompanied by the protection of the unique linguistic, cultural and religious identity of the Tibetan people.