In a new surge of opposition to China’s rule in Tibetan areas, two young Tibetans have set themselves ablaze in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) county in Sichuan province, with another teenager launching a solo protest in the county town calling for Tibetan freedom, sources say.
Gendun Gyatso and Choekyi Gyatso, both 16, set themselves on fire on Dec. 9, London-based Free Tibet said in a press release on Friday.
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, a Tibetan monk living in exile in India confirmed the protests, citing contacts in the Ngaba region, but he could not specify the date.
“The news of the self-immolations is true,” Choedrup Rinpoche of Namdrol Ling monastery in South India said. “One of [the protesters] was Gendun Gyatso, and the other was Choekyi Gyatso.”
Following the burnings, in which sources said the protesters had shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet, Chinese authorities moved quickly to block the flow of information from the area, Choedrup Rinpoche said.
“They placed severe restrictions on family members and on the [young men’s] village,” Choedrup Rinpoche said. “The only information we have received has come by word of mouth, and it is difficult now to learn more details.”
The Dec. 9 self-immolations follow the burnings on Nov. 4 and Dec. 8 of two other young Tibetans, Dopo and Drugkho, which prompted a security clampdown in Ngaba, with internet communications from the area blocked.
Free Tibet said that Gendun and Choekyi were taken to separate hospitals in Sichuan’s Barkham and Khyungchu, also called Markham, counties, and that one of the two had died of his burns.
Free Tibet said the self-immolations had taken place on Dec. 9, while the exile news outlet Tibet Times, also confirming the burnings, gave the date as Dec. 12.
The exile Tibetan news site Phayul meanwhile cited “emerging reports” that Choekyi Gyatso was in fact Drugkho, who had set himself on fire on Dec. 8, and whose protest had already been widely reported.
Monk arrested, beaten
Separately, a young Tibetan monk, also 16, staged a solo protest in Ngaba on Dec. 10 and was arrested and beaten by police, India-based Tibetan monks Kanyak Tsering and Lobsang Yeshe said, speaking from the exile branch of Ngaba’s Kirti monastery.
The monk, Sangye Gyatso, had “shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibetan as he walked,” Tsering and Yeshe said, citing contacts in the Ngaba area.
“Chinese public security bureau officers immediately rushed over and beat and arrested him in front of onlookers. We don’t know where he is being held right now,” they said.
Speaking to RFA, Carole McGranahan—a historian specializing in contemporary Tibet at the University of Colorado in Boulder—said that it is hard to say “with certainty” why someone would choose to burn to death in a political protest.
However, no matter where in Tibet or in exile someone immolates, they call for a long life for the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet. This is consistent across all Tibetan protests,” she said.
“Right now, the people of Ngaba and Kirti are leading the protests.”
Ngaba’s main town and nearby Kirti monastery have been the scene of repeated self-immolations and other protests in recent years by monks, former monks, and other Tibetans calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Before the burnings reported to have taken place on Dec. 9, there were 155 self-immolations by Tibetans since the wave of fiery protests against nearly 70 years of Chinese rule of their homeland began in 2009. Of these 42 took place in Ngaba.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.