Tibetans Punished Over Burning Protest and for Pulling Down Chinese Flag

An undated photo of Tsewang Norbu.
Courtesy of Free Tibet.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. EST on 2013-09-18

Authorities in western China’s Sichuan province have detained a Tibetan man linked to a self-immolation protest and sentenced three others to jail for up to four years for pulling down the Chinese flag and raising the banned Tibetan flag in its place, sources said.

Rinchen Dargye, aged about 41 and a resident of Tawu (in Chinese, Daofu) county in Sichuan’s Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was “secretly detained and taken away” on Sept. 10 after he prevented Chinese police from removing the body of a Tibetan who burned himself to death in protest against Beijing’s rule, according to Tawu Tenzin, a Tibetan living in India.

“He was on a wanted list for obstructing and protesting against Chinese authorities who had attempted to seize the body of Tsewang Norbu, a monk of the Tawu Nyitso monastery, who died in a self-immolation protest on Aug. 15, 2011,”  Tenzin told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week, citing contacts in the region.

Dargye, a father of three who lived in Tawu county’s Lopa village, was also accused of taking possession of the dead protester’s remains so that prayers could be conducted for him, sources said.

Separately, a second Tibetan source in India confirmed Dargye’s detention, saying that he was seized by police when he traveled into Tawu town, the county seat.

“His present condition and whereabouts are unknown,” Yama Gonpo said, also citing contacts in the region.

“He is the father of two children—two sons and a minor daughter,” Gonpo said, adding, “He is also commonly known as Yara and was accused of involvement in resisting Chinese efforts to take possession of Tsewang Norbu’s body in 2011.”

Tsewang Norbu, 29, set himself ablaze near a bridge in front of Tawu county offices on Aug. 15, 2011, Tibetan sources earlier told RFA.

“He shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet and for the return to Tibet of [exiled spiritual leader] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and distributed leaflets calling for human rights in Tibet,” one source said.

The monk then doused himself with kerosene and set himself alight, continuing to shout slogans for about 15 minutes until he died.

Chinese flag pulled down

Chinese authorities in Kardze’s Sershul (Shiqu) county have meanwhile handed prison terms of between one and four years to three monks accused of pulling down the Chinese national flag at a local school and raising the banned Tibetan flag in its place, sources said.

“On Sept. 11, Sonam Choedar and Sonam Gonpo, both 22 years old, were sentenced to four years in jail,” India-based Tenzin told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Another monk, Choedar, 42, was handed a one-year term, Tenzin added.

The three were part of a group of nine monks from Dzatoe township’s Wonpo monastery who were taken into custody on Dec. 15, 2012, he said.

They were detained “for their alleged involvement in hauling down the Chinese flag and hoisting the Tibetan flag twice at a school in Dzachu Wonpo village in April and September 2012,” Tenzin said.

Six of those detained—Lobsang Khedrub, Lobsang Yignyen, Lobsang Norbu, Lobsang Mitruk, Lobsang Gendun, and Tabey—were eventually released after an investigation, he said.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

A total of 121 Tibetans in China have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom, with another six setting fire to themselves in India and Nepal.

Kardze has been the scene of repeated Tibetan protests, both by individuals and by small groups, despite the threat of detention and violent assaults against protesters by Chinese police.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi and Lobe Socktsang for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story omitted Lobsang Gendun from the list of six monks released from detention.


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