Thousands Gather After Young Tibetan Mother Self-Immolates

An undated photo of Jonang monastery in Sichuan province's Dzamthang county.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

A young Tibetan mother burned herself to death on Tuesday in Sichuan province to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, drawing thousands of villagers and monks to her home and a monastery near which she self-immolated, according to sources in the region and in exile.

Chugtso, 20, self-immolated at about 3:00 p.m. local time near Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang) county’s Jonang monastery, a Tibetan living in India and with contacts in the county told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Her self-immolation was in protest against China’s repressive policies in Tibet,” Tsangyang Gyatso said, citing sources in the region.

Chugtso’s burning brings to 116 the number of Tibetans who have burned themselves to protest Chinese rule and policies, with many also calling for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Chugtso died at the scene and was brought to the nearby Jonang monastery, where monks performed prayers.  Afterward, her remains were taken to her home, Gyatso said.

“Following this, local government officials and security forces pressured the family to cremate her remains during the night,” Gyatso said, adding, “This has been the usual practice of the government in handling self-immolation incidents.”

Show of support

The incident brought "thousands" of area residents out in support, Gyatso said.

"Thousands of local Tibetans and monks are gathering at the monastery and her home to show solidarity with the deceased and her family," he said.

Chugtso, a native of Dzamthang's Barma Yultso village, is survived by her husband and a three-year-old child. Her father’s name is Tenkho and her mother’s name is Dronkyi, Gyatso said.

Separately, the London-based Free Tibet advocacy group confirmed Chugtso’s death, noting that Jonang monastery has been the scene of other self-immolation protests in the past.

On March 24, Kalkyi, 30, a mother of three sons and one daughter and also from Barma village, torched herself near Jonang to protest Chinese rule, while another Tibetan woman, Rikyo, 33 and a mother of three, burned herself to death near the monastery in May 2012.

Two cousins self-immolated at the same site about a month before in a separate protest, sources said.

'Protest, not suicide'

In a statement, Free Tibet spokesperson Alistair Currie said that though the pace of self-immolation protests in Tibetan areas has slowed in recent months, “the death of [Chugtso] shows that even the full force of the Chinese state cannot deter some Tibetans from this act.”

“Self-immolation is a protest, not a suicide, and until China addresses the grievances of the Tibetan people, protests of all forms will continue in Tibet,” Currie said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department on Monday said Washington is “very concerned by the self-immolations, detentions, [and] arrests of family members and associates of those who have self-immolated.”

“We call on the Chinese Government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama [and with] his representatives, and without preconditions,” acting deputy spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said.

Chinese authorities have tightened controls in Tibet and in Tibetan prefectures in Chinese provinces to check the fiery protests, cutting communication links with outside areas and jailing Tibetans they believe to be linked to the burnings.

More than a dozen have been jailed so far, with some handed jail terms of up to 15 years.

Reported by Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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