A Tibetan nun set herself ablaze and died Monday in the first female self-immolation case in recent memory among Tibetans protesting Chinese rule, sources said Monday.
Tenzin Wangmo, about 20 years old, called for freedom in Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader living in exile in India, before succumbing to her burns.
Eight Tibetan monks have self-immolated this year, mostly in the Ngaba (Aba, in Chinese) area in China's southwestern Sichuan province, and four have died, saying they wanted to sacrifice their lives to protest against Chinese rule and alleged human rights abuses by Chinese security forces.
Many believe this is the first time a Tibetan female has self-immolated since the Tibetan crisis erupted in the 1950's.
The nun is also from Ngaba and lived a few kilometers from the Kirti monastery, which has been under siege by Chinese security forces most of this year and from where most monks who self-immolated have come.
Around noon, "a nun killed herself by setting her body on fire," Aba Jigme, a native of Aba, told RFA. "But she died on the spot after calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama."
She chose to self-immolate outside Ngaba town, the scene of most of the fiery protests, due to a heavy security presence in the town, he said.
Chinese security forces have stepped up their presence recently in Ngaba town to act swiftly in dousing the blaze among monks who self-immolate.
"It is now difficult to enter Ngaba county center and protest due to a huge presence of security forces. Therefore the nun chose a site close to the nunnery and away from the town. She set fire to herself in protest," Jigme said.
The Chinese authorities have demanded the body of the nun but her colleagues refused to comply, according to Kanyag Tsering, a Tibetan monk living at Kirti's sister monastery in Dharamsala, the Indian hill-town seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The Chinese warned them to bury her by Monday night, he said.
Wangmo was from the Mamo or Dechen Choekorling Nunnery, housing about 350 nuns. It is one of the biggest nunneries in Ngaba.
Nuns from this nunnery had taken part in a protest against Chinese rule in March 2008 but had to face harsh questioning from Chinese security forces, Tsering said.
A few of them were arrested, and among them three were sent to jail for three to four years, he said. Some of those detained at the time recall that a nun who carried the picture of the Dalai Lama in the protests was severely beaten and interrogated and may have died, according to Tsering.
Separately, a source said a group of Tibetans protested on Sunday at Khakor town in Serthar (Seda, in Chinese), a Tibetan pasturing area located in the northeast part of Sichuan's Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Details of the protests were not immediately available.
Fasting and prayers
The latest self-immolation protest came as Tibetans prepared for a day of fasting and prayers on Wednesday to display solidarity in the face of rising Tibetan protests against Chinese rule.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in India has called on the United Nations and “freedom-loving countries and people around the world” for increased attention to Tibet following the self-immolation protests.
“On October 19, 2011, the Central Tibetan Administration will offer day-long prayers and encourage all Tibetans to fast on that day as a gesture of solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet,” a statement said.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, of violating Buddhist teachings by not condemning the self-immolations in which four monks have died.
But the Dharamsala-based Tibetan government-in-exile slammed Beijing for the charge, saying China should first put an end to its "repression" in Tibet.
The exile government, known as the Central Tibetan Administration, also accused Chinese security personnel of violating basic human rights by assaulting monks who self-immolated.
“[The Dalai Lama] has said many times in the past that suicidal protests are not something he approves of or wants to encourage,” said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.
“But he can’t put himself in the position of criticizing people’s right to protest, and he certainly can’t put himself in the position of saying these people don’t experience intolerable pressure … It’s quite clear that they do.”
Reported by Chakmo Tso, Guru Choegyi, and Rigdhen Dolma for RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.