A South Korean Buddhist monk set fire to himself in Seoul on Saturday. The monk was at a protest calling for the dismissal of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. In 2015, Park came under widespread criticism for making a deal with Japan over Japan’s use of South Korean sex slaves during WWII. South Korea agreed to no longer criticize Japan for the crime, and in exchange Japan pledged to fund a foundation in support of the victims; but, the deal was made without approval from the victims, 46 of whom were still alive when it was reached.
The 64-year-old man who self-immolated had called the President a “traitor” in his journal. He survived the fire and is now in critical condition in the hospital.
Self-immolation has been a tragic and relatively common form of protest through the 20th and 21st centuries. Thich Quang Duc’s famous 1963 self-immolation, in protest of the Vietnam government’s discrimination of Buddhists, precipitated the fall of the government and introduced the concept of self-immolation protest to the Western world. In 2009, a new wave of self-immolations emerged in Tibet. Since then, 146 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest of the Chinese government’s oppression of Buddhism and the Tibetan people. Self-immolation protests are rare in South Korea. Self-immolation is discouraged by Buddhist leaders, but many Buddhist activists see it as a non-violent form of protest.