First self-immolation in Tibet Autonomous Region; former monk sets himself on fire

Reports are reaching ICT from exile Tibetans in India about the self-immolation of a former monk in his forties in Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu or Qamdo) prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region today (December 1). The reports, that have been micro-blogged and uploaded on Facebook accounts in Tibetan, indicate that the Tibetan, named as Tenzin Phuntsog, survived and has been hospitalized. At least one source stated that the former monk was from a monastery in Chamdo county named as Karma monastery, which some sources say was under lockdown following a rumored bomb blast at a local government building on October 26. Chamdo is in the Tibetan area of Kham

If the accounts that have emerged so far are correct this would be the first self-immolation to occur in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the 13th since Kirti monk Tapey set himself on fire on February 27, 2009. The self-immolations have mainly occurred in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo), with three in neighbouring Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (the Tibetan area of Kham) (ICT, Self-immolation fact sheet).

Radio Free Asia has now reported that the former monk set himself ablaze in Khamar township in Chamdo, that his wife¹s name is Dolma, and that he has two sons and a daughter. (Radio Free Asia Tibetan service in English, December 1).

Karma monastery, located on the eastern bank of the Dzachu River in Chamdo, was founded in the 12th century by the First Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the first reincarnation lineage. Rumours of a bomb blast in a government building near the monastery on October 26 could not be confirmed at the time. One source, a Tibetan exile in India, told Radio Free Asia that monks from Karma monastery had not been allowed to leave the monastery at the time.

Repression has been intense in Chamdo, particularly since the 2008 protests, which led to a dramatic tightening of security in the area and the imposition of ‘emergency’ measures by the authorities including a “readiness to defend to the death key sites, key aims, and key areas at sensitive and highly critical periods,” according to a notice of strategies issued by the Chamdo government in 2009 (ICT report, Determination to resist repression continues in ‘combat-ready’ Chamdo, frontline of ‘patriotic education’).

Chamdo has been described by the official media as the ‘frontline’ of the ‘patriotic education’ campaigns favored by the Chinese Communist Party as a means of pre-empting further nationalist protest in Tibet, and new measures have been introduced over the past few months to counter dissent and demonstrations. The authorities have emphasised ‘security work’ in the region, including the use of ‘vigilante’ squads, the stepping up of military drilling, and the imposition of more checkpoints to monitor people arriving in and leaving the area.

The Chinese government regards Chamdo as “a strategic bridge between the Tibet Autonomous Region and the neighboring provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai.” (Tibet Daily, April 17). The region has been of particular strategic importance to Beijing since the Communist authorities gained control of central Tibet when Chamdo, eastern Tibet’s provincial capital, fell to the People’s Liberation Army on October 7, 1950. (ICT report, Determination to resist repression continues in ‘combat-ready’ Chamdo, frontline of ‘patriotic education’).

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