- A Tibetan man in his mid thirties named as Sangye Khar set fire to himself and died today outside a police station in Amchok, Sangchu (the Tibetan area of Amdo), according to Tibetan sources in exile. His body was taken away by paramilitary police despite protests from Tibetans, and the situation in the area is tense, according to the same sources. Sangye Khar is the 134th Tibetan to set fire to himself in Tibet since 2009, and chose the day of a major religious anniversary marked by prayer ceremonies across Tibet.
- Large deployments of armed troops with riot shields were on the streets of central Lhasa last night and today (December 16), as Tibetans gathered to mark a major Tibetan religious festival, the anniversary of the death of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism. Images show crowds of pilgrims by the holy Jokhang temple in a powerful display of devotion, and troops in camouflage gear with riot shields and firemen in red uniforms with fire extinguishers at the scene.
The religious festival falls on the 25th of the 10th Tibetan month (coinciding with December 16 this year) and is traditionally marked by lighting of butter-lamps. Both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama belong to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) order of Tibetan Buddhism, founded by teacher and scholar Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). The festival is observed in the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, one of Tibet’s holiest sites, as the images from today show.
The mass gathering of both pilgrims and troops follow earlier major demonstrations of armed force at the time of peaceful religious festivals in Tibet over the past two years. In 2012, similar images emerged from Lhasa at the time of the festival of troops and firemen gathered outside the Jokhang temple, including troops in black uniforms, with some in camouflage uniform.
In 2013, massed ranks of armed troops confronted pilgrims attending peaceful gatherings in major monasteries in eastern Tibet. Vivid images disseminated on social media showed higher numbers of Tibetans than usual gathering to pray at major monasteries – Labrang and Kumbum – during the Monlam (prayer festival), also associated with Tsongkhapa, as troops stand guard or encircle the pilgrims. (Images at: Thousands of Tibetan pilgrims face troops at religious ceremonies in eastern Tibet). The numbers of pilgrims who continue to gather to pray despite such an intimidating paramilitary presence are compelling testimony to Tibetan resilience and determination to assert their religious identity.
Self-immolation of Sangye KharSangye Khar’s self-immolation today in Amchok, Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) county, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province, follows the self-immolations of three Tibetans, two of them outside monasteries, on the same Tsongkhapa anniversary in December, 2012. Sangye Khar is believed to be from a semi-nomadic area in Kanlho, Gansu. In 2012, on the same Tsongkhapa anniversary, 23-year old farmer Pema Dorjee, set fire to himself and died close to the main assembly hall of Shitsang Garser monastery in Luchu on the day of the Tsongkhapa commemoration in 2012. (ICT report, Three Tibetans self-immolate in two days during important Buddhist anniversary: images of troops in Lhasa as Tibetans pray).
Details of the self-immolation were sketchy due to security restrictions in the area. The last two self-immolations in Tibet also occurred outside police stations. Tibetan student Lhamo Tashi set fire to himself and died on September 17 (2014) outside a government Public Security Bureau headquarters in Tsoe City, northeastern Tibet, where he was studying. The day before, on September 16, a 42-year-old Tibetan, Kunchok, set himself on fire outside a police station in the Golog (Chinese: Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province.