Chinese authorities have detained at least five Tibetans in connection with the latest self-immolation in protest against Beijing’s rule in a county in Sichuan province, as security forces move to clamp down on dissent, according to a source inside Tibet.
The five included the mother and teacher of 18-year-old Konchok Sonam, who torched himself while crying out for Tibetan freedom outside his Thangkor Soktsang Monastery in restive Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on July 20.
The mother and teacher, whose names are not available, have since been released. The other three are monks from the Thangkor Soktsang Monastery.
They were among 20 Tibetans held since July 7, said the source, who spoke to RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity.
Konchok Sonam is the 121st Tibetan to self-immolate in protest against Chinese rule since February 2009 and the first in nearly five weeks.
In the evening following the protest, authorities launched a raid on Thangkor Soktsang Monastery, detaining at least one monk and attempting to take away Konchok Sonam’s body, but hundreds of Tibetans joined monks at the monastery and prevented them from doing so.
Over the next three days, police picked up two more monks from the monastery.
The source said Chinese authorities had ordered “a huge contingent of police and People’s Armed Police,” or paramilitary police, to Thangkor Soktsang Monastery, where he said they had “randomly detained the monks of the monastery and the local laypersons.”
“On the night of the day Kunchok Sonam died in self-immolation, a monk named Tenzin was suddenly taken away. Then, on the night of July 21, Palden Gyatso was suddenly detained and whisked away at around 10:00 p.m.,” he said.
“Also on the night of July 21, Kunchok Sonam’s teacher, his mother, and relatives were taken away and were thoroughly interrogated. They were released on the morning of July 22.”
On July 23, monk Sangay Palden was picked up from the monastery, the source said.
Aside from the three detained monks, the source said, another three Tibetans are still in custody but it is not clear why they are being held.
Meanwhile, he said, security restrictions had been tightened in the area.
It was unclear what had happened to Kunchok Sonam’s body, although unconfirmed reports said that his fellow monks had given him a “water burial.”
Kunchok Sonam’s fiery protest came about after the last reported Tibetan self-immolation near Nyatso monastery in Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county on June 11.
Chinese authorities have tightened controls in Tibetan-populated areas in a bid to check self-immolation protests, arresting and jailing more than a dozen Tibetans whom they accuse of being linked to the burnings. Some have been jailed for up to 15 years.
In Tibetan-populated Dzoege county, Chinese authorities last month transferred ruling Chinese Communist Party chief Tenzin Yarphel after he was found to be popular among Tibetans and approving special Tibetan religious gatherings, residents told RFA last week.
Prior to Konchok Sonam's burning protest, there had been five self-immolations, including two twin burnings, in Dzoege this year.
Three other self-immolations took place in the county before this year.
According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy based in Dharamsala, India, Chinese authorities have “planted spies” and begun paying monthly salaries to monks in certain monasteries in a bid to prevent further self-immolations and other protests.
Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.