Teenage Monk Burns Himself to Death Crying for Tibetan Freedom

2013-07-20
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Tibetans gather at the compound of Thangkor Soktsang monastery in Dzoege in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

A Tibetan teenage monk burned himself to death Saturday after shouting slogans for Tibetan freedom in a restive county in China's Sichuan province where authorities have imposed among the tightest controls to check self-immolation protests, according to local residents.

Konchok Sonam, 18, torched himself outside his Thangkor Soktsang monastery in Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after morning prayers, in the first Tibetan self-immolation in five weeks, the residents said.

Hundreds of Tibetans have gathered at the monastery in support of monks from the institution who prevented Chinese authorities from taking away his body, they said.

“He self-immolated and died between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. after crying for Tibetan freedom," a Dzoege resident told RFA's Tibetan Service.

"The Chinese authorities insisted on taking possession of his body but the monks of the monastery refused to comply," the resident said. "People have flocked to the monastery in sympathy with the self-immolator and to support the monastery, which has 300 monks."

The deadly burning protest by Konchok Sonam, from Thangkor village in Dzoege brought to 121 the total number of self-immolations since the wave of burnings began in February 2009 in protest against Chinese rule and demanding the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

It came about five weeks after the last reported Tibetan self-immolation near Nyatso monastery in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county on June 11.

Chinese authorities have tightened controls in Tibetan-populated areas in a bid to check self-immolation protests, arresting and jailing more than a dozen Tibetans whom they accuse of being linked to the burnings. Some have been jailed for up to 15 years.

Transfer

In Tibetan-populated Dzoege county, Chinese authorities recently transferred the ruling Chinese Communist Party chief after he was found to be popular among Tibetans and amid concerns over self-immolation protests in the area, local residents told RFA.

Tenzin Yarphel, the Party secretary in Dzoege, was transferred to head the Ngaba prefecture's department of environment protection, a low-profile appointment, on June 8, 2013 after he was found to be approving special Tibetan religious gatherings, they said.

Prior to Konchok Sonam's burning protest on Saturday, there had been five self-immolations, including two twin burnings, in Dzoege this year.

Three other self-immolations took place in the county before this year.

Chinese authorities have "planted spies" in every village in Dzoege county "to monitor conversations and keep a strict watch over Tibetan activities, in an ongoing effort to prevent self-immolation and other protests," according to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Dharamsala, India.

The Chinese authorities have also attempted to pressure local Tibetans to sign an official order that forbids any kind of activities to support or sympathize with self-immolation protests, it said, quoting a monk from Barmi Monastery in Tsongru township of Dzoege.

Monthly salaries

The monk also said a new policy had been implemented since October 2012 at Barmi Monastery under which the Chinese government now pays monthly salaries to monastic staff and teachers, including the abbot and disciplinarian.

"The monthly payment is made on the strict condition that no political disturbances would be allowed in the monastery and all monks would pledge their political allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese state," according to a TCHRD report.

"Although there is no information about other monasteries following the same practice, it appears that the new practice was an ‘experimental’ precursor to a regulation passed in December 2012 which gives the Chinese government all authority and power to appoint religious instructors in Buddhist monasteries," it said.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi, Yangdon Demo and Lobe Soktsang for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.