A former monk from Tibet’s Karma monastery died Tuesday in hospital from burns sustained after self-immolating in protest against Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, according to sources inside Tibet and living in exile.
Tenzin Phuntsog, 46, had set himself ablaze near a field in Karma township in Chamdo in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) on Dec. 1. Chinese police extinguished the fire and took him to a hospital with severe burns.
“Tenzin Phuntsog, who self-immolated, died in Chamdo Hospital and his body was handed over to his relatives,” said a Tibetan source in exile, citing sources in Karma township.
The source said he was unclear of the exact date of Phuntsog’s death.
But a source living inside Tibet said the former monk had died on Tuesday.
“Tenzin Phuntsog, who set his body on fire on Dec. 1 in Karma township, died in Chamdo Hospital on Dec. 6,” the source said.
He said he was unaware whether Phuntsog’s family had been given the body.
Calls to the Chamdo police station on Thursday went unanswered.
The source inside Tibet said some 70 monks have been detained since Karma monastery was taken over by Chinese armed police following the Oct. 26 bombing of a nearby government building.
No casualties were reported in the blast, but walls of the building had been painted with slogans in red calling for independence for Tibet, and leaflets had been scattered in the area.
“Seventy monks of Karma monastery were detained and their current conditions are unknown. Over 40 monks escaped from the monastery into the hills,” he said.
According to the source, Phuntsog’s son Choying Nyima had been among a group of younger novice monks who were ordered to return home after the monastery takeover.
“However, when they reached their homes, they were constantly harassed and threatened [so that police could] extract more information on the monastery and about the monks who went missing.”
Burned in protest
The source said Phuntsog had self-immolated on Dec. 1 after armed police arrived at the homes of the 40 monks who had fled Karma monastery, demanding that their families convince them to return within four days or face prison.
“At that time Tenzin Phuntsog arrived at the county office complex and burned himself in protest. There were many Tibetans in the area who witnessed the self-immolation and saw a huge ball of fire around him,” the source said.
“In the afternoon of the same day when he set fire to his body in protest, the Chinese police ransacked Tenzin Phuntsog’s house and found a photo of the Dalai Lama, a religious book, and a CD.”
He said Phuntsog’s wife Dolma has been missing since the self-immolation a week ago. The couple has two sons and a daughter.
“When his wife Dolma heard about the incident, she rushed to the scene and the police detained her. No one knows where she is now being held.”
Before self-immolating, Phuntsog had distributed a number of leaflets around town expressing solidarity with area monks and criticizing Chinese rule.
“When … monks and nuns suffer so much under detention with beatings and excruciating interrogations, I would prefer to die than remain alive,” read one leaflet.
“How can we trust this totalitarian who forbids us from practicing our Buddhism? Mere thinking about those … monks is futile. We should rise up.”
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.