Thousands of Tibetans mobilize in reaction to self-immolations despite security build up

  • Thousands of Tibetans gathered in Dowa township in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren), Qinghai to say prayers for Nyangchag Bum, one of two Tibetans who self-immolated and died on Monday, November 12.
  • The second Tibetan to self-immolate in Rebkong on November 12, Nyangkar Tashi, left a note expressing in part his hope that “six million Tibetans study Tibetan, wear Tibetan clothes and be united.”
  • The November 12 self-immolations followed a visit of officials to the area who blamed the acts on foreign influence. A local Tibetan courageously challenged the officials, attributing the self-immolations to lack of freedom, the Dalai Lama not being allowed to return home, and Tibetans not being allowed to keep his photograph or pray for him.
  • On November 10, Gonpo Tsering, a young Tibetan known as one of the brightest students at his school died after self-immolating in front of a monastery in Tsoe. The death was quickly confirmed by the Chinese state media.
  • On November 9, amidst a tense security situation, thousands of Tibetan students in Rebkong gathered at the cremation of a Tibetan nomad and former monk, Jinpa Gyatso, who self-immolated and died the day before in front of Rongpo monastery. Images received from Tibet show children in the demonstration holding hands amid crowds of thousands.
  • On November 9, Tibetan students at the Qinghai Nationalities University held a candle-light vigil and said mantras for Tibetans who had self-immolated. This action and the protests by students and teachers in Rebkong show different sectors of society coming together in solidarity and making reasonable, non-violent appeals to the authorities for change.
  • The number of Tibetan self-immolations has dramatically spiked at the time of China’s Party Congress. Confirmed incidents in Tibet now total 72.

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The unfolding situation in Tibet indicates that Tibetans are moving their struggle onto a different trajectory than imagined in Beijing. It is time for the Chinese authorities to take stock of the real consequences of their policies.

Self-immolation of Nyangchag Bum followed by gathering of thousands

Twenty-year old Nyangchag Bum, the oldest of three brothers in his family, self-immolated and died early in the evening of November 12 in Dowa township, Rebkong. Local people took his corpse to the monastery and prayed there. According to Tibetans in exile, “A few thousand people gathered, saying long life prayers for the Dalai Lama and chanting the Mani mantra [associated with the Dalai Lama].”

Consistent with a pattern observed in other Tibetan self-immolations, Nyangchag Bum was cremated at an area used only for monks, although he was a layperson.

Self-immolation of Nyangkar Tashi follows official visit

Nyangkar Tashi’s self-immolation followed a visit by prefectural and township government officials to Dowa asking about the self-immolations of Tamdrin Tso (on November 7) and Jinpa Gyatso (on November 8). According to Tibetans in exile who are in contact with Tibetans in the area, officials visited Dowa on November 11, and spoke to local people, saying that Tamdrin Tso and Jinpa Gyatso’s self-immolations were connected, and that they were supported by people outside Tibet including exile Tibetans. On Monday (November 12) more officials came to Dowa and gave speeches, saying that the self-immolations were wrong.

Twenty-four year old Nyangkar Tashi set fire to himself while Tibetans were gathering to pray for a young Tibetan mother, Tamdrin Tso, who self-immolated and died on November 7 in Dowa township in Rebkong county, Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province (the Tibetan area of Amdo).

It was after the official visit, at around 3:15 p.m. on November 12 at Kadmar Thang in Dowa, that Nyangkar Tashi set fire to himself, calling for the long life of the Dalai Lama and a free Tibet. The same sources said: “At that time, there were lot of people there who were praying and paying their respects to Tamdrin Tso and Jinpa Gyatso. People did not allow Chinese police to take Nyangkar Tashi’s remains but brought his corpse back to his village, Drotsang in Dowa.”

According to the same sources, when Chinese government officials came to Dowa (which is approximately 100 kilometers from Rebkong town) to condemn the self-immolations, they also asked local officials and local people why the self-immolations had happened in Rebkong. One local official replied that while he could not speak for others, he felt that the reason for the self-immolations is that people are not allowed to have the Dalai Lama’s photograph, they are not allowed to pray for the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government does not allow the Dalai Lama to return home. The local official also mentioned that the Panchen Lama is still in Chinese custody (referring to the 11th Panchen Lama, who disappeared in 1995 after he was recognized by the Dalai Lama). The same official also said that there was no freedom for Tibetans and this was another reason for the self-immolations. “Local people said that he was very brave to tell the truth, and they were very moved,” a Tibetan source told ICT.

Another Tibetan source said before the recent self-immolations, a senior official from Rebkong township had come to Dowa and ordered Tibetans not to keep the Dalai Lama’s photograph. In the past few days officials have travelled to nomadic areas in Rebkong and told people that they are not allowed to gather together and that they are not allowed to display the Dalai Lama’s photograph.

Security is now being tightened in Dowa, with increased numbers of Chinese troops and police arriving in the area.

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