The Tibetan monk who set himself on fire on Thursday in the town of Kyegudo in northwestern China’s Qinghai province has been identified as the son of a local businessman disliked by Chinese authorities because of his support for Tibetan language and culture, sources in the area and in exile said.
Sonam Topgyal, aged about 26, self-immolated at about 6:00 p.m. on July 9 in the central square of Kyegudo in the Yulshul (in Chinese, Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, prompting an immediate security clampdown including a disruption of communications in the area, a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Friday.
“Local people believe that Sonam Topgyal self-immolated because he wanted to show how much his family has suffered under Chinese rule,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Topgyal’s family home and other valuable properties had been demolished by Chinese authorities in 2012 as part of a road-widening scheme, after which his family was briefly detained and his father, prominent local businessman Nangchen Tashi, was tortured by police, the source said.
“Nangchen Tashi had consistently worked to promote Tibetan culture, language, and religion, and had often provided grants for the support and education of poor Tibetans,” he said.
And though Tashi’s home and a family-owned hotel and shop were left undamaged by an April 14, 2010 earthquake in Kyegudo that killed 3,000 according to official figures and largely devastated the town, “all his properties were destroyed by the Chinese,” he said.
Thursday’s self-immolation by Topgyal, who had pursued advanced Buddhist studies at Dzongsar monastery in Sichuan’s Dege county, brings to 142 the total number of burnings by Tibetans living in China since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.
It was the sixth to take place since the beginning of the year.
Separately, a Tibetan living in exile confirmed Topgyal’s self-immolation, adding that Chinese security forces, including armed police, had quickly filled the streets following the protest.
Electronic communication services were also cut, the source said, citing contacts in the town.
“Everything is now disconnected, except in the larger hotels and in hospitals,” he said.
Though Topgyal was quickly transported to a hospital for treatment following his protest, no word has been received on his present condition or whereabouts.
"Tension and discontent have been mounting in this Tibetan town due to the frequent cases of land grabbing by local Chinese authorities for Chinese government projects,” the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) said in a July 10 statement.
“As a result of the corrupt ties between developers and local Chinese authorities, Tibetans are being dispossessed of housing plots that they have owned in Kyegudo town for generations,” TCHRD said.
Reported and translated by Guru Choegyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.