A Tibetan monk who set fire to himself on Wednesday in protest at Chinese rule and was subsequently assaulted by police has died, Tibetan sources in exile with contacts in the region say.
The death, confirmed in a report by China’s official Xinhua news agency, has sparked a security clampdown, including around the monastery of the 21-year-old monk, Lobsang Phuntsog.
Phuntsog, who came from the Kirti monastery in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of western China’s Sichuan province, died at approximately 3:00 a.m. Tibetan time on March 17 after being transferred from his monastery to a hospital, according to Tibetan monks Tsering and Yeshe in India.
“Monk Phuntsog was first brought back to the monastery on March 16 with no hope of survival,” Tsering and Yeshe said, citing sources in Ngaba.
“He was later taken to a hospital after permission was obtained. He breathed his last at 3:00 a.m.,” they said.
Phuntsog, whose father’s name was given by sources as Tsering Tashi and mother’s name as Dzokar, had come originally from Meruma village in Ngaba and had become a monk at an early age.
As of 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, local time, his body had not been returned to relatives, sources said.
On Wednesday, Phuntsog set himself ablaze and walked, shouting slogans, to the market square of Ngaba town.
There, Chinese police kicked and beat him while extinguishing the flames, sparking an angry protest by monks and local Tibetans who took Phuntsog back to his monastery.
The protest, which then spread to include a larger crowd, was later violently suppressed, witnesses said.
Speaking separately, a Tibetan source said that police had also thrown bricks at the monk as he burned.
"Local police beat the monk Phuntsog with clubs and then threw bricks at him, injuring him," said a caller from Tibet named Kangri.
"Nearby Tibetans came to his rescue and tried to save him," he said.
Another caller, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Phuntsog had staged his protest to mark the third anniversary of a 2008 protest at Kirti in which Chinese police fired into a crowd, killing at least 10.
"Also, Chinese authorities did not allow Ngaba Kirti monastery to celebrate Tibetan Losar [the traditional New Year] on March 5, this year," the caller said.
Reached for comment early Thursday, a Ngaba police officer said, “This incident never happened. Please don’t believe such rumors.”
But in a later report, China’s Xinhua news service confirmed the monk’s protest and self-immolation, blaming his death on the delay in taking him to hospital.
Chinese security forces meanwhile moved to surround Kirti monastery and to block roads leading into Ngaba, sources said.
“Today, no monks are on the streets,” one woman said on Thursday, adding that several monks had been “taken away” the day before.
In a statement, Mary Beth Markey, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, called Phuntsog’s protest “a single tragic and desperate act” and noted what she called “the hostile response of Chinese authorities.”
“A resolution of grievances is urgently needed if there is to be peace and justice in Tibet,” Markey said.
Reported for RFA’s Tibetan service with translations by Rigdhen Dolma and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service with translations by Ping Chen. Written in English by Richard Finney.