Voice of America is reporting that a 20-year-old Tibetan monk set himself on fire late Friday afternoon in Sichuan’s Aba County, which has been ground zero for a string of self-immolations in recent months as Tibetans continue to protest repression by the Chinese government:
Lobsang Tsultrim, a monk of restive Kirti monastery shouted anti-China slogans as he marched onto the streets while engulfed in flames, in a desperate protests against Beijing’s repressive policies on Tibet, says spokesperson of Kirti monastery in India.
Chinese security forces reportedly smothered out the flames while beating Tsultrim. The monk’s whereabouts and present conditions are not known. Sources say Tsultrim was alive at the time the security forces took him in a vehicle to an undisclosed location.
Tsultrim joined Kirti monastery at the age of eight and is the eldest among his four siblings, according to the same source.
Heavy Chinese security forces were reportedly deployed at the main gates to the Kirti monastery since Friday morning, further intensifying its already heavy military presence near the monastery.
Security had tightened in Aba and elsewhere in western China ahead of a number of Tibetan anniversaries this month, including commemorations of deadly anti-government riots in Lhasa in 2008 and the Dalai Lama’s flight from the region in 1959. And according to Human Rights Watch, the Chinese government has also introduced a system which ends a long-standing policy of allowing Tibetan monasteries to be overseen by monks and instead places every monastery in Tibet under the direct rule of permanently-stationed government officials:
“Although the Chinese government has placed many restrictions on the practice of religion in Tibet, these new regulations represent an entirely new level of intervention by the state,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “This measure, coupled with the increasing presence of government workers within monasteries, will surely exacerbate tensions in the region.”
According to official documents, the new policy, known as the “Complete Long-term Management Mechanism for Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries,” is described as, “critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism,” and aims to “ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order.”
The order to post resident cadres within monasteries in the TAR was contained in an “important memorandum” on “mechanisms to build long-term stability in Tibet” issued by Politburo Standing Committee Member Jia Qinglin, Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu and other state leaders in late December 2011. That memorandum orders the TAR to “have cadres stationed in the main monasteries to further strengthen and innovate monastery management,” according to an official news report on December 20.
“This new decision is a major departure. It overturns the central guarantee of ‘autonomy’ that has guided policy on Tibet for decades,” said Richardson.
Tsultrim would be the 29th Tibetan to have self-immolated since February 2009, reports Radio Free Asia, which has more on the incident:
“He was pursued by Chinese policemen who beat him, knocked him down, and threw him into an open truck,” Tsering quoted one eyewitness as saying.
“He was seen being taken away but he kept pumping his fists in the air.”
The self-immolation came as more than 1,000 Tibetans protested in Gepasumdo (in Chinese, Tongde) county in Qinghai province on Friday calling for the release of about 50 monks who had been held for raising the Tibetan flag and demanding freedom a day earlier, according to sources.
“Over a thousand Tibetans converged at the county building and demanded that all the monks detained should be released,” a local Tibetan source told RFA.
A mother in Aba and a young student in Gansu province also set themselves alight less than two weeks ago in protest of China’s policies in Tibet, and the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that another self-immolation occurred when a monk named Jamynag Palden burned himself in the Qinghai monastery town of Tongren:
Palden walked out of Rongwo Monastery in the morning dressed in a gasoline-soaked robe, then used a lighter to burn himself, Xinhua said, citing a county government spokesman.
Free Tibet said Palden went to a public square, prostrated three times beside Rongwo Monastery and shouted “Let His Holiness return! Freedom for Tibet and the Tibetan language!” before he set himself on fire.
Security forces put out the fire by covering Palden’s body with a sheet, the group said.
Palden was taken to a hospital, but was brought back to the monastery by monks who feared he would be arrested by Chinese authorities, Free Tibet said.
Advocacy group Free Tibet posted a disturbing image of Palden in a hospital bed following his self-immolation, as well as three videos, including one which claims to show Palden himself surrounded by a group of monks in prayer:
The second video shows hundreds of monks protesting in Tongren’s central square on Wednesday after the incident. The demonstration appears to be among the largest since the riots in 2008, according to The New York Times:
The third video, which is silent, claims to show students marching through a street in Rebkong: