HANOI, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Vietnam’s highest-profile religious detainee has sent a letter of support to the Dalai Lama after a series of self-immolations by Tibetans, saying China’s crackdown on Tibetan areas was a challenge to all humanity, a Buddhist group said on Thursday.
Activist monk Thich Quang Do invoked one of the best known cases of a self-immolation by a Buddhist monk, the 1963 burning of Thich Quang Duc in Saigon, captured in an iconic black-and-white photo, which “shook the conscience of the world”, according to the letter.
The France-based International Buddhist Information Bureau said the letter had been clandestinely sent from Do, who is under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, last week.
“There are moments when this ultimate gesture, that of offering one’s body as a torch of compassion to dissipate darkness and ignorance, is the only possible recourse,” he wrote, according to IBIB.
“I wholly support the Tibetan people’s courageous struggle for survival, and share your aspirations for the right to freedom and live. Your suffering is our suffering. Your struggle is our struggle.”
The self-immolations in Tibet and ethnically Tibetan parts of China pose a potentially destabilising challenge for China’s regional policies. Beijing has branded those who set themselves alight as terrorists and stepped up security in the region.
Activists say China has been snuffing out Tibetan cultural and religious heritage in the Himalayan region which has been under Chinese control since 1950.
At least 14 Tibetans are believed to have died from their injuries. Do’s letter referred to 21 cases of self-immolation in the past year. Exiled Tibetans say they fear a crackdown in the region to coincide with the Tibetan new year on Feb. 22.
Do said 22 Vietnamese monks, nuns and lay persons had done the same since the Communist takeover of 1975 to appeal for religious freedom.
China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.
The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
(Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Nick Macfie)