Kirti monk who self-immolated on March 16 dies in custody; 18-year old monk dies on March 10 in self-immolation protest

Lobsang Tsultrim, the 20-year old monk from Kirti monastery who self-immolated on Friday, March 16, died while in the custody of authorities at the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture government offices in Barkham (Chinese: Ma’erkang) on Monday, March 19, according to Kirti monks in exile in India. Lobsang Tsultrim’s body was not turned over to the family; government authorities cremated it the same day and gave them a portion of his ashes. According to the same sources, monks at Kirti monastery held a vigil through the night, reciting prayers. Lobsang Tsultrum was a relative of Norbu Damdrul, a former Kirti monk who died after self-immolating on October 15, 2011.

Tibetan-run stores and restaurants in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) county town, Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (Tibetan area of Amdo) closed their businesses for three days following Lobsang Tsultrim’s self-immolation, according to the same sources.

Lobsang Tsultrim became the 13th current or former monk from the embattled Kirti monastery in Ngaba to set fire to himself. According to the Kirti monks in exile while marching down the main road of the county town and shouting slogans in protest of the Chinese government, on Friday, March 16. “As he walked on from the site of his self-immolation, armed police personnel came running to intercept him, at which he turned and ran back in the other direction, continuing to shout. He was then knocked to the ground by a police officer, and the police extinguished the flames, and threw him into the back of a pickup vehicle. He was held down by police officers, but was seen to raise his arms while continuing to shout, showing that he was still alive. The slogans he was shouting could not be heard,” according to the same sources.

Lobsang Tsultrim, the eldest of four brothers and sisters, is from Choejema township in Ngaba county. At eight years old he began studying at the Kirti monastery school, which was closed in 2003, after which he entered the monastery’s college. According to Kirti monks now living in exile, Lobsang Tsultrim was known as an excellent and well-behaved student.

Lobsang Tsultrim was the cousin of Norbu Damdrul, a former Kirti monk who died after self-immolating on October 15, 2011 (ICT reports, Self-immolations continue in Tibet; 8th young Tibetan man sets fire to himself in Ngaba – 16 October 2011 and Tibetan self-immolations continue and spread in Tibet into 2012 – 9 January 2012).

18-year old monk self-immolates; dies on March 10

An 18-year old monk from Kirti monastery named Gepey died after setting himself ablaze in the late afternoon of March 10, according to Kirti monks now living in exile. It is not known if Gepey deliberately chose this date to mark the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, and the fourth anniversary of the protests beginning on March 10, 2008. Gepey self-immolated and died near the first military base set up by the People’s Liberation Army upon arriving in the area in 1950. According to the same sources, when soldiers took Gepey’s body into the base, some local Tibetans confronted them, seeking the return of the body to Gepey’s family. It is believed Gepey self-immolated in the same vicinity where Rinchen, a Tibetan mother in her early thirties, set herself on fire in protest on March 4, 2012 (ICT report, Tibetan student and widowed mother self-immolate in Tibet – 5 March 2012).

Tibetans believe it is important to carry out prayer rituals after death in order to ensure a peaceful transition for the person into their next life. In Tibetan culture, for this reason, the body of a person who has died should be disturbed as little as possible. In the case of Tibetans who have self-immolated, many Tibetans believe that they are giving their lives as a form of dedication, or to be of benefit to others, and so it becomes even more important for the bodies to be returned for prayer ceremonies.

Officials did give Gepey’s body to the Tibetans, but also specified that Gepey should be cremated the same day and in the presence of no more than five relatives. This meant that customary funeral rights were unable to be performed, according to the same sources.

Gepey was from Choejema township in Ngaba county. He is survived by his mother and two brothers, who are also monks. Gepey’s mother was brought in by police for day-long questioning on March 11 and 12, following Gepey’s self-immolation. Tibetan-run businesses and restaurants closed on March 12 in a demonstration of solidarity following the incident.

Speaking on March 14 at a news conference after the conclusion of the annual National People’s Conference, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao addressed the issue of the self-immolation protests undertaken by Tibetans. According to Xinhua, the state-run news agency, Wen said that “These young Tibetans are innocent and we feel deeply distressed by their behavior.” Without attributing a direct cause or supporting evidence, Wen Jiabao implied that the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government-in-exile were behind the self-immolations, stating that their “purpose is to separate Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas from China. We have a firm position and principle on this matter.” (Xinhua, 15 March 2012).

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