100th Self-Immolation Within Tibet; Another in Nepal

After a Tibetan man set himself on fire in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu on Wednesday, exile and activist groups reported that the 100th self-immolation protest within Tibet had taken place in Ngaba on February 3rd. From Dharamsala-based Phayul.com:

According to the exile base of the Kirti Monastery in Dharamshala, Lobsang Namgyal set himself ablaze near the local police building in Zoege at around 6 am (local time). He passed away at the scene of his protest.

“Lobsang Namgyal, engulfed in flames, shouted slogans for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he ran towards the local police building,” Kirti Monastery said in a release citing sources in the region.

[…] “Chinese security personnel bundled away his body from the site and carried out his cremation without informing his family members,” Kirti Monastery said. “Only his ashes were handed over.”

In September 2012, Lobsang Namgyal had all of a sudden gone missing for two weeks prompting frantic searches from his family members and friends. It was later found out that he was taken into custody by Chinese security personnel for unknown reasons.

Coincidentally or otherwise, news of this 100th self-immolation emerged on the 100th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Proclamation of Independence, after a ten-day delay. The organization Free Tibet reported that fear of reprisals from Chinese authorities had slowed confirmation of the event, and that Lobsang Namgyal’s family members have been followed and subjected to phone tapping or detention since his death. Authorities have detained dozens of Tibetans accused of involvement in earlier protests, while others have already received lengthy prison sentences. Other measures include travel restrictions and the confiscation of televisions and satellite dishes, aimed at controlling the flow of information: the delayed news of Lobsang Namgyal’s death, and reports that a Tibetan woman set fire to herself in Beijing in a previously unknown case as long ago as last September, suggest some success in this.

The protests and crackdown have dampened celebrations of Losar, the Tibetan lunar new year, which Tibetan prime-minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay suggested should be marked by prayer instead of festivities. From Ben Blanchard at Reuters:

The Tibetan lunar new year is supposed to be a time for celebration, but many Tibetans who spoke to Reuters in Xiahe said there would be no entertainment this year.

“It really isn’t appropriate because of the self-immolations. So we’re not marking the new year,” said a Tibetan man who gave his name as Dorje. “In Tibet you don’t celebrate new year if you are in mourning.”

[…] Tibetan areas in China have been largely closed to foreign reporters and put under heavy security, making an independent assessment of the situation there hard.

Many of the monks said they were too scared to talk publicly about the Tibet issue. “I’m terrified. People have no idea how bad things are here,” said one monk.

The Associated Press described the self-immolation in Kathmandu on Wednesday:

Witnesses in Nepal said a man in monk’s robes entered a cafe in Katmandu’s Boudhanath district–home to many Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries–and asked to use the bathroom. After spending some time there, he went into the street and lit himself on fire. He ran a few steps, covered in flames and chanting slogans against China, before collapsing in front of the mammoth Boudhanath stupa, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, surrounded by prayer wheels and decorated with colorful streams of flitting prayer flags.

Police official Keshav Adhikari said police and residents were able to put out the flames and rush the man to a hospital. Dozens of baton-wielding police surrounded the hospital where the man lay in critical condition. Adhikari said the man had yet to be identified, but appeared to be about 21 years old.

[…] Prasant Tamang, a waiter at the Golden Eye Cafe, said he found a gasoline bottle, a jacket and a bag in the cafe’s bathroom. Tamang said the man appeared normal and calm.

Some 20,000 Tibetan exiles live in Nepal, but some say they feel “suffocated” by growing Chinese influence. Local authorities have forbidden protests against China, and in February last year border guards reportedly turned a blind eye to plain-clothed Chinese men obstructing a CNN crew filming on the Nepalese side.

The Kathmandu protest has also been described as the 100th self-immolation, but officials from the Central Tibetan Administration told the AP that it was the 101st worldwide since 2009. This figure appears not to include Lobsang Namgyal. The International Campaign for Tibet counts five previous cases outside China’s borders since April 2008, including one earlier incident in the same part of Kathmandu. Two more possible cases within Tibet are excluded from both organizations’ tallies because accidental death could not be definitively ruled out.