Self-immolation of monk known for protecting religion and culture

Kalsang Yeshe

Kalsang Yeshe in an undated photograph.

A Tibetan monk known for his work teaching others about Buddhism set fire to himself and died today in Tawu, the Tibetan area of Kham, according to reports from Tibetans in exile. According to the same sources, Kalsang Yeshe self-immolated near a police station that had been established recently by his monastery, Nyitso, where repression of monks and local people has been particularly intense in recent years.

Local people gathered afterwards to call for the return of his body from police in order to carry out traditional religious ceremonies, according to Tibetans from the area who are now in exile.

It is the third self-immolation in Tibet in a week, following the death of a young Tibetan woman, Tseypey, after she set fire to herself in Ngaba yesterday.

A graphic image of the burning body of Kalsang Yeshe, believed to be in his late twenties or thirties[1], is circulating on social media. According to the same sources, Kalsang Yeshe called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and for freedom for Tibetans as he set himself on fire. Armed police removed his body afterwards.

One Tibetan source said that Kalsang Yeshe had studied for a couple of years at a monastery in exile before returning to Tibet to study further and teach local Tibetans more about Tibetan Buddhism. The source said: “He worked very hard to protect and preserve Tibetan cultural identity and language.”

A Tibetan monk called Tsewang Norbu from Nyitso (also known as Nyatso) monastery was one of the first Tibetans to set himself on fire in the wave of self-immolations that have swept Tibet since 2009.

Repression has been particularly intense in Tawu (Chinese: Daofu), Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan. In July, 2013, two monks from Nyitso were shot and injured after police opened fire on a group of Tibetans who had been celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

Nyitso monastery is located within Tawu county town and is populated by more than 200 monks (prior to the Cultural Revolution nearly 2,000 monks are believed to have been based there). It has more than 400 years of history and is recognized as a protected heritage site in Sichuan. Monks from other areas of Kham and Amdo frequently come to Nyitso to study, while monks from Nyitso also travel elsewhere for study.

The Chinese authorities have stepped up the establishment of police stations in monasteries as part of their mechanisms of surveillance and control.

[1] Different sources have reported his age as either 28 or 38.

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