Chinese police have arrested a monk and his nephew for allegedly helping eight people set themselves on fire, as a backward kind of new law begins to take effect: self-immolators and anyone who helps them can now be charged with murder. Yes, that means that should you survive lighting yourself on fire in China, you might get charged with murdering yourself. Of course this is a Chinese attempt to quell and quash one avenue of Tibetan dissent and protest against the Chinese government. And we first heard about the law last week when the Gannan Daily, a local government-run paper in China, reported that the Supreme Court had passed a law equating self-immolation with homicide:
The Opinion makes clear that those criminals who act as principal culprits behind the scenes to organize, direct, and plot [self-immolations], as well as those who actively participate in inciting, coercing, enticing, abetting, or assisting others to carry out self-immolations, will be held criminally liable for intentional homicide in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Criminal Law of the PRC and targeted for severe punishment in accordance with the law.
"The law appears to prohibit anyone from encouraging an immolation, grabbing hold of another person while burning, and otherwise self-immolating and living to tell about it," The Washington Post's Olga Khazan reported. Proposing and enforcing the law are two different things, obviously. But the arrest of the monk Lorang Konchok shows that Chinese police have no qualms about it.
"He acted on the instructions of the Dalai Lama and his followers, according to his confession and police investigation," reports China's government-run Xinhua. "Lorang Konchok took advantage of his position and influence in the monastery and often encouraged others to self-immolate, telling local monks and followers that self-immolation was not against Buddhist doctrines and those who did it were 'heroes,'" the paper adds.
Making an example out of one monk is one thing, but there are a lot of self-immolators out there to chase down: Khazan notes that 75 of 92 people who set themselves on fire in protest in the past three years died during the protest. That number is now at 76 of 93, after a 16-year-old Tibetan girl died after setting herself on fire Monday. Should she have lived, she might now face her own murder charge.