A fire in the ancient Tibetan town of Dukezong, Yunnan province, destroyed hundreds of buildings, including one with Chinese-recognized "monument status" dating to the early 17th century, on Jan 11. The town is in Shangri-la county, and is a tourist attraction, as it was apparently the inspiration for the fictional Shangri-la. Two days earlier, a mysterious blaze badly damaged the Larung Gar Institute in Serthar, Sichuan province, one of the world's largest Tibetan Buddhist learning centers and home to some 10,000 monks and nuns. On Nov. 16, the Lithang Monastery, Sichuan, was also badly damaged in a fire, said to have been caused by faulty wiring. The string of incidents has caused Tibet solidarity websites to speculate on a possible arson campaign. The India-exiled Central Tibetan Administration only said it "prays for quick restoration" of the Larung Gar Institute, "which became one of most influential Tibetan Buddhist learning centres in Tibet following liberalisation of religious practice in 1980s after the Tibetan culture and religion suffered systematic annihilation during China's Cultural Revolution." Dukezong, Serthar and Lithang and all lie within the "Greater Tibet" claimed by the Central Tibetan Administration. (AP, CTA, SCMP, Shanghaist, Jan. 11; Save Tibet, Tibet Truth, Jan. 10; Tibet Post, Nov. 18)
More sentenced in self-immolations
On Jan 2, a Chinese court sentenced three Tibetan men in Tsoe (Chinese: Hezuo), Kanlho (Gannan) prefecture, Gansu province, for allegedly encouraging two other Tibetan residents in the county to self-immolate. The self-immolation deaths took place in Sankhok township in October and November 2012. The men received terms ranging from 18 months to two years.
Since 2009, 125 Tibetans have self-immolated, and Chinese authorities have sentenced scores of people to prison terms on charges of "intentional homicide" for their alleged roles in encouraing the protest suicides. The exiled Central Tibetan Administration maintains that the wave of self-immolation "represents a new threshold of Tibetan despair," and attributes the crisis to China's policies of "political and religious repression, economic marginalization, social discrimination, cultural assimilation and environmental destruction in Tibet." (Tibetan Review, Jan. 11; Phayul, Phayul, Jan. 8)
More protests over development
Several Tibetans were detained by Chinese secuirty forces in Derge (Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan) on Jan. 8, for allegedly disrupting the construction of a tunnel project in the region the previous month. The arrests took place in a raid on the Derge monastery. Construction of the tunnel, announced last May, has prompted protests from local Tibetans who fear its environmental and social impacts. On Dec. 27, some 100 Tibetans staged an occupation of the construction site. (Phayul, Dossier Tibet, Jan. 8)