Tenzin Tharchen in The Reporters:
All of Tibet is essentially under lockdown. “Tibet” here corresponds roughly to what the Chinese government has designated the Tibet Autonomous Region, plus Tibetan areas of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai. It’s a huge area–five times the size of France.
China is the largest country in the world ruled by a dictatorship and has one of the worst human rights records of any country. But at the same time, it’s one of the most rapidly changing societies, and the changes have brought about freedoms inconceivable in the Maoist era. As long as you don’t publicly defy the Communist Party, as long as your pursuits don’t threaten the power or interests of Party officials, as long as you don’t have something the Communist Party wants, you are left alone to think and saywhatever you want in private, to do whatever work you want.
Chinese-ruled Tibet, by contrast, is a totalitarian society under military occupation. No independent reporting is allowed in Tibet. Chinese reporters must serve the state, and their reporting is more tightly controlled than in China. Indeed, almost all Chinese reporting from Tibet comes directly from Xinhua, the official state news organ. Foreign reporters are not allowed in Tibet except when accompanied by government minders on government-controlled itineraries.
Given such tight control of information, it’s amazing how much has gotten out about the self-immolations and other news the Chinese government would prefer no one know about. Most information that “escapes” from there is sent out via cell phone and internet by ordinary people to Tibetan exiles, news organizations such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and Tibet advocacy groups such as International Campaign for Tibet, Free Tibet and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
Still, even though news of the self-immolations has emerged, I wonder whether or not there is any other place in the world where so many people could have killed themselves in such dramatic fashion with so little clear effect.