Tibetan monk self-immolates as security tightened for Dalai Lama’s birthday

Sonam Topgyal

Armed police gather in Kyegudo following the self-immolation on July 9.

More photographs below. WARNING: Graphic

A Tibetan monk in his late twenties set fire to himself in the main square of Kyegudo (Yushu) yesterday (July 9), in an atmosphere of heightened security imposed around the period of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday on July 6.

Images emerging from Tibet show the monk, who has been named by Tibetan exile sources as Sonam Topgyal, on the ground in flames in the town’s main Gesar Square. According to the same Tibetan sources, Sonam Topgyal was taken away by armed police while still alive and is believed to be in hospital, although his whereabouts and welfare is not known. The county town of Kyegudo (also referred to as Jyekundo or Kyegudo) is in Qinghai Province (the Tibetan area of Kham).

Security in the town was immediately escalated following the self-immolation, which is the sixth this year and the 142nd in the PRC.[1] Sonam Topgyal is from Nangchen (Chinese: Nangqian) in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Details of his monastery could not be confirmed, due to intense security restrictions in the area imposed after his self-immolation.

Tibetan sources said that security has been intensified in county towns across the Tibetan area of Kham in recent weeks due to the significant 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama.

A Tibetan father of four called Tenzin Gyatso set fire to himself in Tawu (Chinese: Daofu), also in Kham, on May 20, apparently in response to tightened security in the buildup to the Dalai Lama’s birthday.[2]

Even despite the dangers of doing so, Tibetans across the plateau marked the birthday according to the Tibetan calendar on June 21-22 in moving and devotional ceremonies in monasteries, the grasslands and in the heart of Lhasa.[3]

Kyegudo, where Sonam Topgyal self-immolated yesterday (July 9, 2015), has been the site of previous protests due to the marginalization of local Tibetans by government reconstruction plans following an earthquake on April 14, 2010, that devastated the area. In April 2011, hundreds of Tibetans gathered to make a bold protest against the Chinese authorities’ plans for land distribution and relocation, which have mainly excluded Tibetans from decision-making. Protestors who were detained after the protests were dispersed by armed police included many Tibetans who had been injured in the quake, some of whom had lost limbs.[4] Although Yushu is a centuries-old Tibetan center of Tibetan culture and religion where Tibetans comprised 97% of the population, the rural town has been rebuilt into a new tourist city with a Chinese name.[5]

A Tibetan mother of two Sangye Tso who set fire to herself on May 27 (2015) outside a government office in Amdo left a note calling for the long life of the Dalai Lama.[6]

Sonam Topgyal

Self-immolation of Sonam Topgyal, Gesar Square in Kyegudo, Yushu.

Sonam Topgyal

Monk Sonam Topgyal self-immolates in the main square of Kyegudo, Yushu on July 9.

[1] Details of self-immolations in Tibet and in exile in ICT Factsheet: http://www.savetibet.org/resources/fact-sheets/self-immolations-by-tibetans/

[2] ICT report, May 21, 2015, http://www.savetibet.org/tibetan-father-of-four-self-immolates-after-oppressive-measures-to-prevent-dalai-lama-birthday-celebrations/

[3] ICT report, June 29, 2015, http://www.savetibet.org/dalai-lamas-80th-birthday-celebrated-in-tibet-despite-chinese-clampdown/

[4] ICT report, April 15, 2011, http://www.savetibet.org/reconstruction-of-earthquake-hit-area-excludes-tibetan-participation-ignores-local-concerns-one-year-on-from-earthquake/

[5] ICT report, January 25, 2011: http://www.savetibet.org/chinese-authorities-rename-and-rebuild-quake-struck-tibetan-area-tibetans-excluded-from-planning/

[6] Sangye Tso self-immolated in a township in Chone (Chinese: Zhuoni) county, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in Gansu Province. ICT report, June 20, 2015, http://www.savetibet.org/tibetan-mother-who-self-immolated-wrote-note-calling-for-long-life-of-dalai-lama/

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