A Tibetan who is believed to have photographed and circulated shocking images of his relative burning to death in protest against Chinese rule has been detained in Sichuan province’s restive Kardze prefecture, according to sources.
Chinese authorities have previously warned of severe action against Tibetans connected to self-immolations and have sentenced more than a dozen of them to jail for up to 15 years for abetting the burning protests.
Rikchung was detained as he was suspected of taking photos of his relative Thinley Namgyal, 32, burning to death in Khangsar township in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on April 15, an exile source said.
“He was [recently] detained on suspicion of taking images of the self-immolation and sending them to outside sources,” India-based Tawu Lobsang Jinpa told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Rikchung was present when Thinley Namgyal was seen on fire at the back of Khangsar town,” Jinpa said.
“He owns a small shop in the town, and when a group of Tibetans saw Thinley Namgyal on fire, they, including Rikchung, rushed to the scene. But when they found him dead under intense fire, his body was carried to a local monastery for prayers and later delivered to the custody of his [Namgyal's] family,” Jinpa said.
Namgyal's burning was the 131st Tibetan self-immolation in China since the fiery protests began in 2009 challenging Chinese rule in Tibetan areas and calling for the return from exile of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Communication links cut off
Following Namgyal’s protest, Chinese authorities stepped up security in the area and cut off mobile phone and other communication links, local residents said.
Still, many gruesome photographs of him engulfed in flames and of his burned body were circulated to media outlets and posted on the Internet.
Jinpa also said Namgyal had earlier wanted to self-immolate in the Tawu town center where three other Tibetans had burned themselves previously to protest Chinese rule but changed his mind following the presence of police armed with fire extinguishing equipment in the town.
He said government officials had visited Namgyal’s family to inquire about the reasons for his self-immolation.
“The family members told the officials that Thinley Namgyal did mention about the lack of freedom and the crackdown on Tibetans in Tawu area,” Jinpa said. “So his action was an expression of his desperation for the lack of freedom.”
Reported by Sonam Wangdu for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.