Government-run Gannan Daily reported Monday that China’s supreme court, top prosecution body, and police jointly issued the legal opinion that those who incite or abet self-immolations should be charged with “intentional murder.” In an article that reeks of Chinese media, it states (translation made available yesterday by San Francisco-based Duihua Foundation):
So that the recent self-immolation cases that have occurred in Tibetan areas may be handled in accordance with the law and in order to ensure social stability, the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have, based on relevant laws and regulations, jointly issued an “Opinion on Handling Self-Immolation Cases in Tibetan Areas in Accordance with the Law.”
I’m not sure why a small paper in Gansu province was given this scoop — Gannan Daily is getting credited by SCMP, Washington Post, Global Times, etc. — and as a result I’m not sure whether to take it seriously. Certainly no lawman would slap murder charges on someone who survives a self-immolation attempt… right?
But the announcement might also be the government’s latest, almost desperate attempt — in the absence of the Dalai Lama doing anything — to stop people from setting themselves on fire. More than 90 Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009, a number that’s simply mind-boggling.
The legal opinion, which repeats the phrase “in accordance with the law” like a mantra, clearly states that “anyone who organizes, plots, incites, coerces, entices, abets, or assists others to commit self-immolations shall be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with the Criminal Law.” Furthermore — and this one’s the shocker — “anyone who actively commits self-immolation in which the circumstances are serious and that causes major harm or serious danger to society shall be held criminally liable in accordance with the law.”
The Opinion points out that the recent self-immolations that have occurred in Tibetan areas are cases of significant evil that result from collusion between hostile forces inside and outside our borders whose attempts to use premeditated, organized plots to incite splittism, undermine ethnic unity, and seriously disrupt social order. [The cases] have seriously affected the present overall situation of ethnic unity and social stability in Tibetan areas. Those who carry out self-immolations in these cases are unlike the ordinary world-weary person who commits suicide. Their common motivation is to split the nation and they endanger public safety and social order, classifying their self-immolations as illegal criminal acts. Organizing, plotting, inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations is, at its essence, a serious criminal act that intentionally deprives another of his or her life.
The copy then devolves into a beautiful comedy of propaganda, featuring the cliches “public security,” “harmonious and beautiful society” and — my favorite — “splittist sabotage.” (Okay, that last one is more poetry than cliche — good on you, government writer.)
Look: this is a tricky, complex issue, and no one should ever try to explain setting oneself on fire as someone’s fault. But whatever your feelings on this matter, I think we can agree that the government — if indeed this story is true — has again made one hell of a terrible public relations blunder. Self-immolation is not murder. It’s a tragic, incomprehensible, radical act made against harsh political, social, and economic realities. Perhaps, if China’s lawmakers could turn off the mechanical parrot in their brain constantly squawking “in accordance with the law, in accordance with the law,” they could examine the issue with proper respect for those who have died and those whose lives remain at stake.
(Image via Cultural Anthropology)