Potala Palace self-immolation protester identified as popular Tibetan singer

Tsewang Norbu is the 158th burning death in protests over harsh Chinese rule since 2009.
Potala Palace self-immolation protester identified as popular Tibetan singer A promotional photo of popular contemporary Tibetan singer Tsewang Norbu, 25, who set himself on fire last week in a self-immolation protest in front of the iconic Potala Palace in the Tibet regional capital Lhasa on Feb. 25, 2022, and later died.
Tsewang Norbu

A Tibetan man who shouted slogans and set himself on fire last week in a protest in front of the iconic Potala Palace in the Tibet regional capital Lhasa has been identified as a popular contemporary Tibetan singer, sources in the region and in India told RFA Saturday.

Tsewang Norbu, 25, died after his Feb. 25 self-immolation. Initial accounts said he was thwarted by police, but RFA later confirmed that he was taken away immediately after he had burned himself.

“Tsewang Norbu tried to protest the Chinese government by attempting to self-immolate and according to few of my reliable sources from inside Tibet, (he) has died,” a Tibetan living in exile told RFA.

The date and place of his death could not immediately be confirmed. RFA could not reach his family and relatives in Lhasa. Norbu’s mother, Sonam Wangmo, is also a well-known artist in China, the exile source said.

The singer's uncle, Sogkhar Lodoe, is one of the longest-serving known Tibetan political prisoners, have already served 23 years in prison for two previous convictions when he was given an 18-year sentence for protesting in front of the Potala Palace in January 2018.

The comment section on Norbu’s social media accounts have been deactivated due to abundant inflow of condolence messages, while many of his songs are now removed from many Chinese music apps, the source said.

A singer and composer of modern, ethnic, popular, traditional songs, Norbu released the songs “Tsampa,” “Dress Up” and “Except You” among many that were popular among the Tibet community at home and abroad.

The massive hilltop Potala that dominates the Lhasa skyline was the winter palace of historic Dalai Lamas from 1649 until 1959, when the current Dalai Lama fled to India after an uprising against Chinese rule over the formerly independent Himalayan region, triggering a crackdown in which the palace was shelled and thousands were killed by Chinese troops.

A second source from the large Tibetan exile community in India confirmed having heard of the Potala incident but also had no further details.

With Norbu’s death, 158 Tibetans are confirmed to have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, and another eight have taken their lives in Nepal and India.

The previous report of a self-immolation was that of a 26-year-old man named Shurmo, who set himself ablaze in September 2015 in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Nagchu (Chinese, Naqu) county. His death was confirmed only in January of last year.

Friday’s aborted self-immolation bid occurred in the run up to the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 rebellion, known as Tibetan National Uprising Day, a period when the Chinese government usually tightens control and surveillance.

High-technology controls on phone and online communications in Tibetan areas often prevent news of Tibetan protests and arrests from reaching the outside world.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is reviled by Chinese leaders as a separatist intent on splitting Tibet, which was invaded and incorporated into China by force in 1950, from Beijing’s control.

The Dalai Lama himself says only that he seeks a greater autonomy for Tibet as a part of China, though, with guaranteed protections for Tibet’s language, culture, and religion.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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