A Tibetan man self-immolated on Wednesday in Sichuan’s Ngaba county in an apparent protest against Chinese rule and policies in the far-western region of China, a Tibetan source living abroad said.
Tsekho Tukchak, set himself ablaze in Ngaba’s Meruma township at about 5 p.m. local time and died at the scene, said Meuruma Kungyam, a Tibetan political prisoner living in Australia who is from the same town as Tukchak.
“At the time of his self-immolation, Tsekho called out, ‘Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet,’” Kungyam said. “The self-immolation was a protest against China’s repressive policy in Tibet.”
Tukchak, also known as Tsekho Topchag, was in his early 40s and is survived by his mother, wife and two daughters, he said.
Local residents told Kungyam that Tukchak had lately expressed concern about China’s occupation of Tibet and repression of the Tibetan people and their culture.
“He paid great attention to Tibetan issues and was very capable of speaking out about the cause,” Kungyam said. “Whether it was at a tea shop or in the market, he often discussed Tibetan issues and convincingly explained Tibet’s situation to others.”
In recent days, Chinese authorities have deployed an increased number of security forces in Meruma, ready to crack down on large gatherings and blocking internet service, he said.
Tukchak likely self-immolated on Wednesday because he assumed the heavy security presence would have made it difficult to carry out his plan on March 10, Kungyam said, referring to the 59th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation of the formerly self-governing region.
Security forces are spreading throughout the region in the run-up to the anniversary of the incident, which saw thousands of Tibetans killed amid a crackdown by Chinese authorities and led to the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile in 1959.
The day will also mark the 10th anniversary of the beginning of several days of peaceful protest that were brutally suppressed by police and culminated in an anti-China riot in Tibet’s capital Lhasa on March 14, 2008.
During the riot, Tibetan demonstrators torched ethnic Han Chinese shops in the city and carried out deadly attacks on Han residents.
Protests then spread across Tibet and into Tibetan-populated provinces of western China, causing official embarrassment ahead of the August 2008 Beijing Olympics. Hundreds of Tibetans were detained, beaten, or shot as Chinese security forces quelled the protests.
Chinese officials later said that 22 people, mostly Han Chinese and Hui Muslim civilians, had died in the Lhasa rioting, but denied that police had fired on protesters.
‘Prayers for his martyrdom’
Meanwhile, news of Tukchak’s death has spread throughout Meruma township and beyond.
“Tibetans in Tibet are sad to hear the news and are mourning the death of the self-immolator Tsekho,” a source inside Tibet, who declined to be named, told RFA.
“Many Tibetans are saying prayers for his martyrdom,” the source said. “The situation in the area is very tense.”
Tukchak’s self-immolation was also noted by Lobsang Sangay, president of the India-based Central Tibetan Authority (CTA), who expressed “deep concern” over the incident and reiterated an appeal by the CTA to Tibetans to refrain from such protests in a statement on Wednesday.
Sangay said that self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet, however, “evidences that repression in Tibet under the Chinese rule is making lives unlivable” and urged China’s government to heed to the calls of those who “long for freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama back to Tibet.”
Tukchak’s protest brings to 153 the number of self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.
Most protesters who have set themselves on fire have called for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from India, where he has lived since escaping Tibet in 1959.
Reported by Kalden Lodoe, Sonam Lhamo, and Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.