Two Tibetans Burn Themselves in Lhasa

The first self-immolations protesting Chinese rule are reported in Tibet's capital Lhasa.

The site of the self-immolations outside the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, May 27, 2012.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Updated at 1.20 a.m. EST on 2012-05-28

Two young Tibetan men set themselves on fire in Lhasa Sunday in protest against Chinese rule—the first self-immolations reported in the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, according to sources.

They burned themselves in front of Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa—reputedly the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan pilgrims—and were swiftly bundled away by security forces who arrived in several vehicles and cleared the area within 15 minutes, the sources said.

One of them died and the other was injured, state media reported.

"They used a firemen's hose to douse the fire on the two," a Tibetan man from Lhasa told RFA, saying no one was permitted to go near the site.

"Some who tried to go close to the site were also detained and taken away while mobile phones of those who were close to the site were confiscated," the man said.

The dead man was identified as Tobgye Tseten, from China's Gansu province while the injured, Dargye, from Sichuan province, is in stable condition in hospital, state news agency Xinhua reported..

One source said they were monks and aged between 19 and 22 but the details could not be independently verified.

They were believed to be among a few Tibetan youths who gathered to protest against Chinese rule outside the temple located on Barkhor Square, the sources said.


One eyewitness said tourists in particular were kept away from the site of the self-immolations.

"Within 15 minutes, the area was cleaned and not a trace of the incident was left at the site," the eyewitness said.

A Tibetan living in exile said huge flames engulfed the self-immolators and they may not have survived, citing contacts in the region.

"Lhasa city is now filled with police and paramilitary forces and the situation is very tense,” one source said.

Another source in Lhasa said security was very tight in the tourist area around the Jokhang Temple and nearby Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama, following the self-immolations.

"All those who pass through the main ground in front of the Potala Palace are being searched and there is much tension," the source said.

Unconfirmed reports said Tibetans gathered to protest after the burnings and that there were more arrests.

This is the second self-immolation incident in the Tibet Autonomous Region amid protests by Tibetans against Beijing's rule and calls for the return of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, exile sources said.

Prior to the incident, there had been 35 Tibetan self-immolations reported since March 2009. Thirty-four of them had occurred in Tibetan-populated Chinese provinces.

Auspicious month

The self-immolations came as Tibetans flock to Lhasa to mark the auspicious Buddhist month of Saka Dawa commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.

The Chinese authorities had issued directives barring government employees and retirees and students from participating in the religious activities for the whole month, sources in Lhasa said.

"Today is the sixth day of the auspicious Tibetan Buddhist month of Saka Dawa and several hundred Tibetans came out in the city and prayed and circumambulated the temple and Potala Palace," the eyewitness to Sunday's self-immolations said.

Self-immolation protests, which intensified over the last year, had also sparked demonstrations in Tibetan-populated Chinese provinces criticizing Chinese policies, which Tibetans say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights, and calling for greater freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

'Holistic view'

The Dalai Lama has blamed Beijing's "totalitarian" and "unrealistic" policies for the wave of self-immolations, saying the time has come for the Chinese authorities to take a serious approach to resolving the Tibetan problem.

He called on the Chinese leadership to adopt a "holistic view" in resolving the Tibetan crisis instead of a "self-centered" approach backed by power and wealth to suppress the Tibetans.

Chinese authorities however have labeled the self-immolators as terrorists, outcasts, criminals, and mentally ill people, and have blamed the Dalai Lama for encouraging the burnings.

The self-immolation protests have resulted in a Chinese security clampdown in the Tibetan-populated provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu, as well as in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Aside from detaining hundreds of monks from monasteries, Chinese authorities have jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting Tibetan national identity and civil rights, exile sources said.

Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.