Detentions, fear after Lhasa self-immolations; prayer gathering in Dzamthang

  • Chinese security has tightened its grip on Tibetans in Lhasa following two self-immolations outside the Jokhang Temple on Sunday, May 27, with some sources reporting hundreds of Tibetans detained and intensified monitoring of Tibetans from areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. The self-immolations of Dargye (originally from Soruma village, Choejema township, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province) and Dorje Tseten (originally from Bora township in Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province) were the first self-immolations in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city.
  • Thousands of Tibetans gathered for hours at the cremation of a Tibetan mother of three who self-immolated and died on Wednesday, May 30, in Barma township, Dzamthang County, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
Security intensifies after first self-immolations in Lhasa

An image reportedly of Sunday's self-immolation

An image reportedly of Sunday’s self-immolation(s) in Lhasa that has been circulating on Weibo.

Chinese security has tightened following the first self-immolations in Lhasa. An unknown number of Tibetans, some sources saying hundreds, have been detained in a massive police operation and are being held in detention centers in and around Lhasa. Many Tibetans from areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region have been expelled from the city.

Tibetans known to have associated with the two Tibetans who self-immolated or who knew them are said by local Tibetans to be in danger. Nineteen-year old Dorje Tseten had left home after high school and had been renting a room in a house in Lhasa. The entire household was detained soon after his self-immolation. After the self-immolations, Dorje Tseten’s family in Bora were immediately subject to security restrictions, just as other families of Tibetan self-immolators have faced intimidation and pressure. Tibetans travelled to the area from nearby Labrang to pay their respects to Dorje Tseten; some exiled sources indicated that hundreds of Tibetans had made the journey to Bora.

Following his self-immolation and death, Dorje Tseten was taken away immediately. Graphic photographs of his body blackened by fire appeared online. Dorje Tseten’s family is said to be deeply distressed at not being allowed to have his body back for carrying out traditional prayer ceremonies and death rituals. They did receive ashes from the Chinese government authorities, although it is not clear that they were Dorje Tseten’s. The family is understood to be seeking clarification.

The family of Dargye has been told that he is still alive, but his whereabouts are not known. According to monks from Kirti Monastery in exile, 25-year old Dargye had entered Kirti monastery as a boy and disrobed a few years ago. His father is called Lodey and his mother is called Sheykyi. He is the youngest of six children. In Lhasa, Dargye took a job as cashier at a restaurant owned by the Chukeytsang trading family, also from Ngaba. After Dargye’s self-immolation, the restaurant owner, Chukey, and his wife and family were all arrested.

According to the Kirti monks in exile, Tibetans without temporary registration enabling them to stay in Lhasa have also been detained. Kirti monks Lobsang Yeshe and Kanyag Tsering, both based in Dharamsala, India, said: “Even for those Lhasa residents from Kham and Amdo who have not been detained, there is a real danger that they will no longer be permitted to remain in Lhasa. After the 2008 uprising, monks from eastern provinces were expelled and now the three great monasteries near Lhasa are virtually empty.” The monks also said that following Kirti monk Phuntsog’s self-immolation in Ngaba in March 2011, Ngaba residents of Lhasa were detained for questioning, and have continued to be harassed by the authorities.

The monks named six of the detainees as the present head of the Ngaba community group in Lhasa, Drolma Kyab, Nyurgyog, Tamdrin Kyab and Sangdrak.

The self-immolations in Lhasa took place during Saga Dawa, an important religious period for Tibetan Buddhists that commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Lhasa is typically busy with Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims during this period, and most Tibetans consider the Jokhang Temple, the site of the two self-immolations, as the most sacred and important temple in Tibet.

Tibetans gather for prayer after mother of three self-immolates

A large number of Tibetans gathered to pray for Rikyo, the Tibetan mother of three who set fire to herself on Wednesday, May 30, and died straight away. Some Tibetan sources said the total number was as high as several thousand, including monks and laypeople. According to the same sources, Rikyo was a deeply religious person who had carried out prostrations, a gesture used in Buddhist practice to show reverence, for nearly two months before her death. Some speculated that the prostrations had been made to prepare her for the act of self-immolation.

Rikyo was in her mid-thirties and from a nomadic family. She set herself on fire near to Jonang Dzamthang Gonchen Monastery. The flames around her body were so intense that police on the scene were beaten back by the fire and attempts to extinguish it failed.

Following her self-immolation, her body was taken to the Jonang Dzamthang Monastery and kept there, according to Tibetans in exile who are from the area. Chinese government officials came to the monastery and sought to impose an immediate cremation. Rikyo was cremated the same day, and a large number of Tibetans converged at a special cremation prayer service near the monastery. According to a Tibetan in exile in contact with Tibetans from Dzamthang, “Although it was raining and a heavy storm, people did not move from the cremation area near the monastery until around 3 a.m.”

Rikyo’s self-immolation is the fourth to have occurred in Dzamthang (ICT report, Tibetans gather in Dzamthang for vigil after self-immolation: Lhasa crackdown deepens in buildup to Tibetan New Year – February 19, 2012 and ICT – Map). She was a neighbor of the three young men who had self-immolated in February and April, 2012 (VOA, Mother of Three Dies After Self-immolation in Dzamthang, Amdo – May 30, 2012). Hundreds of Tibetans had gathered in Dzamthang in February in a vigil over the body of 18-year old Nangdrol, after he set fire to himself (ICT reports, Tibetans gather in Dzamthang for vigil after self-immolation: Lhasa crackdown deepens in buildup to Tibetan New Year – February 19, 2012 and ICT, Two young Tibetan men die after self-immolation protest in Ngaba region – April 19, 2012). In January, Tibetans in Dzamthang were deeply distressed when a young Tibetan student called Ogyen was shot dead after police fired into a crowd gathering to protect a Tibetan called Tarpa who was being detained (ICT report, Tibetan student killed, several injured, after police open fire in Ngaba; news of two more prayer vigils for New Year – January 27, 2012 and ICT – Photos (Graphic)).

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