Kirti Rinpoche speaks of self-immolations; death of two former Tibetan monks after immolation

The exiled head of Kirti monastery, Ngaba, where six monks have set fire to themselves since March, has spoken about their actions and his views on why Tibetan monks are choosing this new form of protest and sacrifice. Two monks who were taken to hospital after they set fire to themselves on October 7 have died.

In an answer to questions posed by ICT, Kirti Rinpoche, who is based in Kirti monastery in Dharamsala, India, said: “With the Chinese government making arbitrary arrests and passing unimaginably harsh sentences on the basis of false representations and allegations, for month after month [Kirti] monastery [in Ngaba, Tibet] has been turned into a virtual prison, and all the monks, young and old, subjected day and night to deprivation of all freedoms, internally the monastery’s teaching program is not allowed to function, and externally, Tibetan religion and culture is under such unthinkable repression that it has reached a point of desperation where people would choose to die rather than go on living.”

Tibetan monks die in hospital after immolation

Both of the two former Tibetan monks who set fire to themselves on October 7, Kayang and Choephel, have died. According to exile Tibetans, Choephel died today in hospital (October 11). Kayang, died a day after his protest, according to exile Tibetan sources. The Chinese state media reported the self-immolation in a Xinhua report on October 8, saying that two Tibetans were “slightly injured” after a “self-immolation attempt” in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo).

According to exile Tibetan sources, although Kayang’s family attempted to obtain his body for traditional funeral ceremonies after his death, the Ngaba authorities passed on his ashes. Exile Tibetan sources in contact with Tibetans in the area said that the authorities sought to prevent people gathering for the funeral, including some monks who went to offer prayers for him. Even so, according to the same sources, “People in Ngaba offered money for butter lamps and another religious activities such as prayers and kora [circumambulation of a religious site] for three days [after the death].” (ICT report on the self-immolations: Two Tibetan teenagers set fire to themselves in latest protest in Ngaba; ICT calls for urgent actions by governments and 17 year old Tibetan monk from Kirti monastery self-immolates in new protest).

The two monks who immolated themselves on October 7, 18-year old Kayang and 19-year old Choephel, were described by the Chinese state media as former Kirti monks who had been wearing lay clothing when they set fire to themselves. According to unofficial sources, both may have been expelled from Kirti during the current crackdown. The same unofficial sources said that as they set fire to themselves they clasped their hands together.

Despite the Chinese authorities’ attempt to impose an information blackout in Ngaba, some news has filtered through about the 17-year old Tibetan monk, Kelsang Wangchuk, who set fire to themselves on October 3. (ICT report, 17 year old Tibetan monk from Kirti monastery self-immolates in new protest). Tibetan exile sources indicate that Kelsang Wangchuk is in a ward of the county hospital under strict surveillance. The same sources said that he had sustained a head injury as a result of the beatings from police at the time of his detention.

Two other Kirti monks who set fire to themselves on September 26, Lobsang Kelsang and Lobsang Kunchok, are also still alive and in hospital, according to the same sources. Lobsang Kelsang was featured on Chinese state television from hospital. (ICT report, Two more Tibetan monks from Kirti monastery set themselves on fire calling for religious freedom).

According to exile sources, high numbers of troops are still stationed in the Ngaba county town and Kirti monastery, with security cameras now installed on buildings on both sides of the main road and checkpoints on the main access roads. The Ngaba authorities have ordered the management of Kirti monastery not to allow any help for families of monks who have committed self-immolation, such as prayers for those who have died. Four permanent security police offices have been built in the monastery compound. Internet access has been virtually cut off completely.

There are serious fears for the future of Kirti monastery, due to the large number of monks expelled, taken from the monastery, or imprisoned and tortured since the current crackdown began on March 16 after young monk Phuntsog set fire to himself. (ICT report, Dramatic new footage reveals Ngaba crackdown, refutes Chinese claims of ‘normal life’).

According to reports from Tibetan exiled monks, the local authorities in Ngaba have contacted families of monks who have been expelled and have offered large sums of money in an attempt to persuade monks to disrobe and break their monastic vows. In some cases the officials have offered as much as several thousand yuan. A Tibetan in Dharamsala, India, who has heard from various sources about the inducements said: “Quite a number of families were offered this money. As far as I know, none took the money, and all of them were too upset to discuss it further with the officials.”

A Tibetan from Ngaba who is now in exile and who wished to remain anonymous reflected on the current situation in an article translated from Tibetan, saying: “In short, the occurrence of suicide as protest in Ngaba is because many people there cannot see how to go on living. Regrettably, local Chinese authorities present this reality upside down, so that ordinary local people are the ones to blame. The ‘patriotic’ reeducation and violent intimidation being touted as the solution to this issue are just a return to the old patterns of confrontation and will lead only to the creation of new confrontations, rather than serving as the foundations of ‘peaceful stability’ or a ‘harmonious society’. To have to relinquish our ethnic-national identity and culture is to relinquish the point of living for Tibetans, so the present repressive and punitive policies are literally tearing out the hearts of the Ngaba people.”

In the article, which is so far unpublished, the author discusses the complex history of the Ngaba region, writing: “In recent years, there have been continuing outbreaks of overt and desperate protest in the Ngaba region of lower eastern Tibet, and especially, many suicides. […] self-immolation protests, one after another, made international headlines. But the long history and social causes that gave rise to this situation are more serious and complex. The present situation is not, as the Chinese government maintains, trouble stirred up by a small number of people, nor is it orchestrated from outside. Quite the opposite; it is the product of a long history and of major problems in society, and the causes of those problems issue from the totally wrongheaded baiting [of the people by the state] and inhumane exercise of power. […] My native land, Amdo Ngaba, is now under tighter restriction than other regions, and its suffering more intense.”

There is evidence that the Chinese authorities fear that the new development of self-immolations may spread to other areas of Tibet. A Western tourist who visited Lhasa recently noted that there is a new grouping of soldiers in the Barkhor area, consisting of patrols in groups of five, with two in the front and two at the back equipped with automatic rifles, and one in the middle carrying only a fire extinguisher on his back.

The Dharamsala-based Tibetan government in exile said in a statement about the situation in Ngaba today: “We appeal to the Chinese government to immediately release those who survived self-immolation and that they be treated with dignity. The Central Tibetan Administration urges Tibetans and all our friends across the world to show solidarity with the people of Ngaba and to highlight the urgency of the grave situation in Tibet. We appeal to the international community to press the government of the People’s Republic of China to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully through dialogue.” (www.tibet.net).

ICT recommends the following:

  1. Governments should (a) demarche (reprimand) the government of the People’s Republic of China concerning the situation in Ngaba, (b) seek a full accounting of the forcible removal of monks from Kirti monastery, including an explanation of the pretext or conditions under which monks were removed and their current whereabouts, and (c) prohibit visa entry to relevant Chinese officials until such information is provided.
  2. Governments and United Nations bodies should call on China to abide by its obligations to international human rights conventions with respect to the religious freedoms and basic human rights of the monastic and lay communities in Ngaba.
  3. The Chinese government should suspend implementation of religious control regulations, review religious and security policies implemented since 2008 in Ngaba, and begin a transparent dialogue with the leaders of Tibetan Buddhist schools.
  4. The Chinese government should resume its dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama toward genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China.
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