Two More Monks Self-Immolate

Tibetan monks at Kirti monastery protest Chinese rule in a 'desperate' act.

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An undated photo of Lobsang Kalsang.
Photo courtesy of Kanyag Tsering.

Two more Tibetan monks from Sichuan's troubled Kirti monastery have set fire to themselves, Tibetan sources and rights groups said on Monday.

One of them, Lobsang Kalsang, 18, was identified as the brother of Phuntsog, who died in a self-immolation protest against Chinese rule in March, marking an anniversary of unrest three years before.

The two monks were "rescued" by police shortly after setting fire to themselves in Ngaba county, in southwestern China, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

Quoting a statement from the Ngaba county government, the agency said the incident happened at 11.22 a.m. local time on Monday.

The two monks, Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchog, left the monastery after morning prayers on Monday, said Kanyag Tsering, a monk living at the Kirti branch monastery in exile in Dharamsala, India, citing sources in the Ngaba area.

The monks arrived at around 10:30 a.m. at a major intersection in Ngaba township,  the same spot where Phuntsog had set fire to himself in March.

"They were wrapped in heavy cloaks," Tsering said. "They sat down together for a short time ... They then rose, held up a Tibetan flag, embraced each other, and shouted slogans calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and for freedom for Tibet."

"After this, they took off their cloaks, moved into the road, doused themselves in gasoline, and set themselves on fire," he said, adding: "They then ran down the road, shouting slogans."

Death not confirmed

An undated photo of Lobsang Konchok.

Chinese police arrived and took the two monks away in a police truck, he said.

"Bystanders said that one of the monks appeared to be still alive, but that they couldn’t be sure of the condition of the other one," he said.

Unconfirmed reports said though that one of the monks had died on Monday.

Xinhua news agency said however that the two had only suffered "slight burns" and were in stable condition.

It said the suicide attempt was under further investigation.

The U.K.-based rights group Free Tibet said the two months were "estimated to be aged between 18-19 years old."

"The monks called for religious freedom and 'Long live the Dalai Lama' before they self-immolated," the group said in a statement on its website.

Mounting pressure

In official statements, the India-based Tibetan exile parliament expressed "deep anguish" at what it called "the wrong policies being implemented by the Chinese authorities in Tibet" leading to the two monks' protest, and the cabinet of Tibet's exile government decried "the continuing occupation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China."

Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said the self-immolation was likely linked to mounting pressure on the monastic community at Kirti, which was besieged by security forces and subjected to multiple detentions and "political re-education" sessions following Phuntsog's death.

“This is now the fourth act of self-immolation in six months, an unprecedented trend, underlining the growing desperation among some young Tibetans," Brigden said.

"Today’s tragic news does now suggest that some young Tibetans are using desperate measures to draw attention to the situation inside Tibet," she added.

The group called on the international community to urge China to show a restrained response to the recent self-immolation attempts.

In New York, the rights group Students for a Free Tibet said it would stage protests outside the United Nations as Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi prepared to give a speech on Monday.

"China’s violent repression in Tibet, especially against our religious institutions, has become so unbearable that these monks took truly desperate action," the group's executive director Tenzin Dorjee said in a statement on Monday.

"China must immediately withdraw security forces from Kirti Monastery and across Tibet, and stop the ongoing harassment and torture of our monks,” he said.

The incident marked the fourth attempt at self-immolation by Tibetan monks inside China since the beginning of the year.

"We call on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to publicly and vigorously raise this incident with the Chinese Foreign Minister," Tenzin Dorjee said.

Meanwhile,  India-based Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsondue called on Tibetans in exile to recognize the monk protesters' "efforts" and "sacrifice."

"Their actions publicize our cause to the world and send strong, urgent reminders to us within the Tibetan community to take action," Tsondue said, speaking in an interview with RFA.

"If we just live an easy life with enough to eat and drink, we are failing in our purpose of living in a free country like India," Tsondue said.

A hard line

Chinese authorities typically take a hard line on suicide protests, often prosecuting the protester's friends and family and beating those who attempt it.

Last month, a court in neighboring Barkham (in Chinese, Maerkang) county sentenced another monk, Lobsang Tsondru, 46, to jail for "intentional homicide," accusing him having prevented the badly burned Phuntsog from getting medical treatment.

Two more Tibetan monks were sentenced to jail by the court soon afterwards for "aiding and abetting" Phuntsog's death.

Phuntsog died in hospital, triggering protests and prompting a clampdown by Chinese authorities around Kirti monastery.

Phuntsog was the second monk at Kirti to set himself on fire since the anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa of March 2008, the bloodiest in Tibet in 20 years.

Beijing has rejected calls from a U.N. human rights panel to provide information about the whereabouts of more than 300 of Kirti's monks who remain unaccounted for since the monastery was raided in April.

Reported by Righden Dolma for RFA's Tibetan service and by Ding Xiao for the Mandarin service. Translations by Rigdhen Dolma and Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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Sep 26, 2011 11:46 PM

Humanity, refuse Chinese products!

Sep 26, 2011 09:51 PM

I would like to know HH Dalai Lama's thoughts or statement on monks suiciding despite their political reasons.