The first self-immolation protest for 2017 and ongoing demolition of a large Buddhist institute both during March indicate the Chinese state's suppression of Tibetan culture remains unabated. Internet and mobile phone services were shut down and security was tightened in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Sichuan province after a 24-year-old Tibetan self-immolated. Farmer, Pema Gyaltsen, set himself on fire near Tsoga monastery on March 18, demanding the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom in the region. It was the first self-immolation in 2017 but the 147th since 2009. It is still not clear if Gyaltsen is still alive after he was swiftly sent away to Chengdu, a municipal neighboring Sichuan, according to Tibetan sources. Gyaltsen's family member who went to the police station to seek his whereabouts was brutally beaten and held overnight, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). "Today not only is information from Tibet hard to get but government officials in places where Tibetans live, like Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Gansu and Qinghai, have learned how to practice censorship from the Tibetan regional government," Sang Jieja, an exiled Tibetan commentator, told ucanews.com. "I do not support self-immolation but it is the only way for Tibetans to resist the communist's authoritarian rule. They have no other choices, so what can we say?" said Sang. March is always a sensitive month for the Tibetan community in China as it commemorates the large-scale protests that broke out in Lhasa on March 10, 1959 against communist rule. Demolitions resume at Buddhist institute
In the same prefecture, demolitions and expulsions begun during March at the world-renowned Buddhist institute of Larung Gar. The Chinese authorities issued orders that more than 3,000 dwellings which housed monks and nuns need to be demolished by the end of April. The demolitions began last July and have already cleared 1,500 houses. RFA cited Tibetan sources, saying an abbot told them 4,828 monks and nuns have already left Larung Gar, and around 250 nuns from Qinghai are remaining. "Those who have left never wanted to leave. All left against their own wishes. No matter whether or not they had some place to go, they still had to leave," the abbot said. Tourists and other foreign visitors are being kept away from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, another large Buddhist center in Sichuan. The expulsions and demolitions at the Larung Gar, along with restrictions at Yachen Gar, are part of "an unfolding political strategy" aimed at controlling the influence and growth of these important centers, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a March 13 report, "Shadow of Dust Across the Sun."
"Heightened security and surveillance at the two Buddhist centers and local towns, including new mobile police stations and intensified militarization in urban areas nearby, is consistent with more systematic and intrusive measures across eastern Tibet since the wave of self-immolations began in Ngaba, Sichuan in 2009," the report said.