Two young Tibetans set themselves ablaze in protests against Chinese rule and died on Thursday in a restive Tibetan county where authorities have cut communications to prevent news of self-immolations from marring announcements of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s leadership change, sources said.
The burnings in Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in Qinghai province's Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture bring to 74 the total number of self-immolations challenging Chinese rule in Tibetan areas since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009.
“Today, two persons self-immolated in Rebgong, including a woman in Tsenmo,” a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tibetan media sources identified the woman as Tenzin Dolma, aged 23 and a resident of Tsenmo Goge village in Rebgong, the county in which most of the recent self-immolations have taken place.
She set herself on fire at about noon local time in the courtyard of a community temple, sources said.
“She died at the scene, since local Tibetans didn’t know immediately about her protest. She left behind her cell phone and rings, and then prepared herself inside the prayer hall by performing certain religious rituals,” one source said.
Tenzin Dolma is survived by her father Bhulo, 50, and her mother Tashi Dolma, 41.
Her remains will be cremated at around 10:00 p.m. by local Tibetans led by monks from nearby Rongwo monastery, sources said.
Man also dies
Separately, a young man named Khambum Gyal set himself on fire and died near the Rongwo monastery in Rebgong’s Dowa township, sources said.
Gyal, a native of Gyalpo Luchu in Rebgong, was identified by Chinese state media as a 14-year-old boy, though Tibetan sources place his age at 18 or 19.
“At around 11:00 a.m. today, 18-year-old Khambum Gyal self-immolated in the street at Rongwo and died,” a Tibetan living in Switzerland named Sonam said, citing contacts in the region.
“Hundreds of local people, including monks from Tsagya monastery, cremated his remains."
Khambum Gyal is survived by his father, Tamdin Gyal, and his mother Dolkar Tso, and by six siblings, sources said.
Some Tibetan groups believe that recent Tibetan self-immolation protests have been timed to coincide with the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress in Beijing, and to send a powerful message of Tibetan discontent with Chinese policies to the new leadership.
China’s political elite named former vice president Xi Jinping to the top Party post on Thursday, and surprisingly also put him in charge of China's military after the week-long Party meeting.
In a statement on Thursday, London-based Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said that Chinese authorities have blocked detailed news of protests in the Rebgong area.
“It may seem particularly important for China to banish any hint of instability during announcements of the new generation of leaders, hence the stringent efforts to block communications to and from Rebgong,” Brigden said.
“World leaders must speak out for the Tibetans who are protesting for freedom in the face of all China’s might.”
The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), as the Tibetan exile government in India is called, has urged the United States to push the new Chinese leadership to restore various rights to the Tibetans.
“The Obama administration also could take up the issue of Tibet more seriously with the new Chinese leadership appointed at the 18th Party Congress," said CTA head Lobsang Sangay in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
"Tibetans in Tibet are crying out for justice, including the autonomy and freedom to worship they have been promised by Beijing over the years,” Sangay said.
“Helping resolve the issue of Tibet is not only in synch with American values, but it is also a strategic imperative. America and the rest of the world have a vital stake in China’s rise from an economic giant to a potential superpower,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney