A young Tibetan monk burned himself to death in China’s Sichuan province in protest at Chinese rule as Tibetans marked “Uprising Day” at the weekend, according to exile Tibetan sources in India.
The 18-year-old monk, identified as Gepe, staged the self-immolation behind a Chinese military office in the Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture on Saturday, the sources said.
It was the 27th self-immolation by Tibetans since they began a wave of fiery protests in February 2009 to challenge Beijing's rule in Tibetan-populated areas and call for the return of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The latest self-immolation occurred on Uprising Day, the politically sensitive March 10 anniversary of the 1959 flight into exile of the Dalai Lama and of regionwide protests throughout Tibet in 2008.
Speaking to RFA and citing sources in the region, India-based monk Lobsang Yeshe said Gepe was from Ngaba's restive Kirti monastery, from which hundreds of monks have been taken away by Chinese security forces and which has faced a clampdown since early last year.
“He self-immolated between 5:00-6:00 p.m. [local time] at the rear of a Chinese military office in the marketplace of Ngaba town,” Lobsang Yeshe said.
“He died on the spot, and Chinese military personnel immediately took his body inside the building.”
Family kept away
Gepe’s family learned of his death only on the next day, Lobsang Yeshe said.
But when they went to claim his body, Chinese officials refused to hand it over, saying that it would be taken instead to neighboring Barkham (in Chinese, Ma’erkang) county for cremation.
The family would not agree to this, so authorities burned Gepe’s remains that night at a public cremation ground near Kirti monastery, Lobsang Yeshe said.
Five monks were present to conduct prayers, but no family members or other Tibetans were allowed to attend.
Gepe came from a nomad family living in the village of Soruma Dewa and was taken at a young age to Kirti monastery, where he did well in his studies, Lobsang Yeshe said.
He is survived by his mother and two siblings.
Chinese police detained Gepe’s mother, Chako, and questioned her for several hours on Sunday and Monday before releasing her, Lobsang Yeshe and fellow monk Kanyag Tsering said in a statement released on Monday.
Tibetan shops and restaurants in the area are now closed in solidarity with the dead monk, and security measures in the area have been tightened, Yeshe and Tsering added.
News spreads to China
News of the self-immolation appeared also on the Chinese website Xin Lang, which carried a Weibo microblog posting confirming Gepe’s name and age and the date of his protest.
However, the posting was quickly removed and replaced by a comment saying that the story could not be viewed by the public.
The wave of self-immolations prompted a call last week from well-known Tibetan blogger Woeser and senior Tibetan religious leader Arjia Rinpoche to end the fiery protests, saying that Tibetans opposed to Chinese rule should instead "stay alive to struggle and push forward" their goals.
Tibet's India-based exile cabinet marked this year's March 10 anniversary of the failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese rule with a statement noting what it called China's efforts over the last half-century "to annihilate the Tibetan people and its culture."
Lobsang Sangay, the head of the exile government, said that while he strongly discouraged self-immolations, the "fault lies squarely with the hardline leaders in Beijing."
The Chinese government has blamed the Dalai Lama for the self-immolations, accusing the 76-year-old Buddhist leader and his followers of plotting to create "turmoil" in China's Tibetan-inhabited areas.
But Sangay said "the self-immolations are an emphatic rejection of the empty promises of [China's] so-called ‘socialist paradise'" and the lack of ability to protest in any other way in Tibet.
"Today, there is no space for any conventional protests such as hunger strikes, demonstrations and even peaceful gatherings in Tibet," Sangay said.
"Tibetans are therefore taking extreme actions such as ... [committing] self-immolations," Sangay said.
Reported by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Rigdhen Dolma and Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.