Self-Immolations

Jul 29: 2017/Passang Dhondup, 48, a wood painter at Norbulingka Institute in Sidhpur near Dharamshala, died on July 29 in a self-immolation protest against the illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet. He died at around 3pm at Lhagyal Ri on the Kora – the circumambulation path around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence and temple in Mcleod Ganj. This is the second case of self-immolation in India this month. He was spotted by other people walking the circumambulation at the time. Tenzin Dorjee, a witness, said “His body was already in flames when I came across the spot where he had set himself on fire”. Dorjee notified Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and the Dharamshala Tibetan Settlement officer. Two other witnesses, Mr Gyurmey Dorjee and Mrs Bhukyi heard the deceased shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama”. When the Tibetan Settlement Officer and members of TYC arrived on the spot, followed by the police, no one had information about the person’s identity. They found a small bag nearby containing an umbrella, Tibetan national flag, some cash, house key and small paper on which they found a phone number and a name of a Tibetan person – Nyima Gyalpo. Two empty bottles of kerosene or petrol were also found on the site. After investigation, it was found that the phone number belongs to a cable contractor in the Norbulingka area and that Dhondup worked under Nyima Gyalpo in the woodcraft section of Norbulingka Institute. Speaking to the Tibetan media, Gyalpo said that Dhondup had taken a half day leave on that day. "All the evidence, including his slogans and the eyewitness accounts, are clearly stating the fact that he was a Tibetan national and he had self-immolated for Tibet," the Dharamshala Tibetan Settlement Officer Dawa Rinchen told reporters at a press conference. It was later confirmed that Dhondup came to India in 1991 from Gyaltse in Shigatse Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region. He studied for some time in Suja School and has been working at Norbulingka as wood painter since 2012. Nyima Gyalpo explained that Dhondup was a man of few words, lived alone and was someone who loved reading Tibetan books and newspapers. Tibetan non-government organisations in Dharamshala held a candle lit vigil for Dhondup on July 31. Tibetans and supporters in Dharamshala, including the President of Tibetan Government-in-exile Dr Lobsang Sangay, gathered for a special prayer service at Lhagyal Ri and attended the funeral August 2. Sikyong Sangay discouraged self-immolation protests outside Tibet and urged Tibetans to seek other means to contribute to Tibetan cause. “While we understand the intention behind the act of self-immolation, we must remember that the life of every Tibetan is precious and that we must be alive to fight for our cause. In a free country, we have the freedom to embark on all possible methods to contribute substantially to advancing our cause. The life of every one of the six million Tibetans is precious, and every life lost is a huge loss for us and for our cause”, said Sikyong. He further added that his office is considering not attending prayer services in the case of any future self-immolations in exile. Passang Dhondup’s self-immolation is the tenth to take place in exile. The first Tibetan to stage a self-immolation protest was Thupten Ngodup, who set himself in fire in Delhi on April 28, 1998. He was involved in a hunger strike protest which was being forcibly ended by Delhi police. He later died in hospital.

Jul 14: 2017/ Tenzin Choeying, 19, a third year student at the Central University for Tibetan Studies, died on July 22 after dousing himself with kerosene and setting himself on fire on July 14 outside the entrance to his hall of residence in Varanasi. As he burned he shouted, “Victory to Tibet”. Students and staff extinguished the fire and he was taken to hospital in a critical condition. “I burned myself only for Tibet” said Choeying from his hospital bed, and continued, "Since I was a small boy I always wanted to do something for Tibet as Tibet is illegally occupied by the Chinese government, and the current policies of the Chinese government like wiping out Tibetan language and culture is another reason for my protest". Choeying’s parents travelled up from the Kollegal Tibetan Settlement in South India. His condition deteriorated and he was airlifted to Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi for further treatment. He was a member of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) chapter in Varanasi and the Tibetan Youth Buddhist Association. He was related to the writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue who posted regular updates on Choeying’s condition and said, "Support, and messages of love are pouring in from all across the Tibetan community, and from non-Tibetans from around the world". On arrival in Delhi Choeying’s condition deteriorated. An emergency prayer session for his recovery was held in Tibetan Children’s Village Day School in McLeod Ganj Dharamsala and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, included prayers for him at their prayer meeting for Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. Sikyong Lobsang Sangay called for all Tibetans to pray for Choeying, saying, “While we understand the intention behind the act of self-immolation, we must remember that the life of every Tibetan is precious and that we must be alive to fight for our cause…every life lost is a huge loss for us and our cause”. Pawo Tenzin Choeying died from his 90% burns on July 22 in Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi. His body was taken initially to Samyeling Tibetan Refugee Colony in Delhi. The Tibetan Youth Congress, at the request of Choeying’s family, organised his onward transport to Dharamshala and set up the cremation for the morning of July 26 in accordance with Tibetan astrological calculations. On the way from Delhi to Dharamshala, the motorcade stopped briefly at the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah to enable the students and staff paid their last respects before arriving in Mcleod Ganj on the morning of July 25 where he was welcomed by crowds of Tibetans and Indians. A prayer ceremony was held with his family in the TYC office where the media, who had turned out in force, pressed Choeyang’s parents for a personal statement. Choeying's mother Tashi Yangzom, expressed sadness for the loss and pride for the sacrifice by her youngest son, while Choeying's father, Ngawang Khedup said: "I have no regrets, but I plead with the new generation to explore other means to fight for freedom". Tributes and condolences poured in: Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay; a representative from HH the Karmapa's Tsurphu Labrang; the Treasury Secretary of Gyuto Tantric Monastery all paid a visit to the parents, as did Norbu Tsering, Chairman of Local Assembly, Kollegal Refugee Camp who came specially to Dharamshala to represent the settlement. Tibetan shops in McLeod Ganj remained closed for the day. Students from the Tibetan Institute of Medicine and Astrology held an all night prayer vigil in the TYC headquarters and on July 26, the day of the cremation, Tibetan trantric practitioner Sonam Dorjee performed a series of prayer rituals.Mass prayers were held in the three biggest monasteries in exile, Sera, Drepung and Ganden in South India and reports of prayers gatherings poured in from San Francisco, Minnesota, Ontario, NYNJ, Kullu-Manali, Kollegal, CUTS Varanasi, Sarah College, Australia, Rome, Ladakh and elsewhere. Choeying was the youngest of four siblings. His parents urged young Tibetans to live for Tibet and contribute to the Tibetan cause by making use of the international platforms rather than resorting to self-immolation.They said that youth must fight for the cause through education and non violence and stressed the importance of preserving the Tibetan cultural heritage and language. Choeying was the ninth Tibetan to self-immolate outside Tibet. The first self-immolation in Tibet was in February 27, 2009 when a Tibetan monk named Tapey set fire to himself. 149 self-immolations have taken place inside Tibet.

May 19: 2017 / Jamyang Losal, 22, a monk from Gyerteng Monastry in Kagtsa’s Nangra township, self-immolated near the People’s Hospital in Kangtsa county in Qinghai’s Tsojang Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. He did not survive his protest; the police removed his body and have not responded to requests from the family to release his remains. Losal was a native of Dong Gya village in Nangra township.

May 2: 2017/ Chagdor Kyab, 16, has self-immolated in Bora in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Amdo, in protest against Chinese rule. Chagdor Kyab is a student from a farming family and staged his protest near Bora monastery which is a branch of Labrang Tashikyil monastery. He is reported as shouting “Tibet wants freedom” and "Let His Holiness the Dalai Lama come back to Tibet” while he burned. Radio Free Asia has reported that he tried to run towards the Chinese government offices but collapsed. Chinese police and military swiftly arrived at the scene, extinguished the flames and removed the body, it is not known whether he survived. His parents are farmers from Dardo, his mother is named Dolma Tso, his father Zoepa. Tight security and communications restrictions in the area delayed news and information about this protest reaching the outside world.

Apr 16: 2017 / Wangchuk Tseten, a Tibetan man in his 30’s, has self-immolated in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. He is a father of four and comes from Ahse village of Shido town in Nyagrong county in Kardze. The self-immolation took place at about 7.00 am local time in the main square in Kardze where large crowds are known to gather. Chinese police swiftly took the burned man away and there is no confirmed information of his current whereabouts or whether he is alive, although it is believed he died during or shortly after his protest. Further information about the incident is slow to come through and it is believed there is a communications block in place. Voice of America has reported that residents of the town have been summoned to meetings by Chinese authorities following the self-immolation and that people there are very reluctant to discuss the event. Voice of Tibet has reported that three Tibetans, Kunchok Gyaltsen, Nyima and Tsering Gyatso from Nyarong County, were arrested for being in possession of Wangchuk Tseten’s mobile phone and severely beaten. Two have since been released but one remains in custody and is understood to being subjected to torture. Another report has come in of Kunchok Tsering, 39, who may have died in detention after being severely beaten for taking a video clip of the self-immolation. It is although unclear if the video in question is the same as the one circulated on the Internet. There are some unconfirmed reports of two further people being arrested.

Mar 18: 2017 / Pema Gyaltsen also known as Pegyal, 24, has self-immolated near Tsoga monastery in Nyagrong, Kham, eastern Tibet on March 18 to protest against the illegal occupation of Tibet by the Chinese regime, reports Radio Free Asia. This is the first reported self-immolation protest inside Tibet since the start of this year. The police removed his charred body from the location of his protest. Initially it was not known whether Pegyal had survived, but the Tibet Express reported on March 22 that their sources in the region say he is in a critical condition in hospital in Chengdu. RFA quotes Pema Gyaltsen as having “called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and for freedom in Tibet”.  A video is circulating on social media showing a huge police presence at the self-immolation site. A group of Gyaltsen’s relatives went to Kardze county police station to try and see him but were detained overnight, beaten and forced to spend the night standing up. “Today some of them could barely walk from the beating, but they were released under the guarantee of a Nyagrong official,” added RFA’s source. Very little information is getting through because of the communications crackdown and block on the use of WeChat (a popular messaging app used across Tibet) in the region. Pema Gyaltsen was the eldest of five siblings and sole breadwinner for his parents and siblings. This case is the second self-immolation protest in Nyarong. Kalsang Wangdue, an 18 year old monk died in a self-immolation protest there on February 29 last year near his monastery, Retsokha Aryaling monastery. On that same day, Dorjee Tsering, a 15 year old Tibetan student living in India also self-immolated to protest against Chinese occupation of Tibet and succumbed to his burns after three days. Gyaltsen is the 146th Tibetan to self-immolate in Tibet since the first in 2009 which set off the current spate of self-immolation protests which has been happening since across Tibet. Most of these protestors call for Tibetan freedom and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet; His Holiness has been living in exile since escaping Tibet during the failed uprising there in 1959. The Chinese authorities have criminalised self-immolation and there are many reported cases of people being imprisoned for showing support, however remote, for these protests or protestors.

Dec 8: 2016 / Tashi Rabten, 33, self-immolated in Machu in the Gansu province. Onlookers reported that during his protest he called out for "freedom for Tibet and for the return of the Dalai Lama” and that he also called out for the release of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima who is detained in China. Police took him away immediately and later questioned his family, taking his wife and 15-year-old daughter into custody. Radio Free Asia reports that the police demanded that his family "say that the self-immolation had no connection with Chinese government policies, and had been carried out instead because of problems at home". There is no news about his current condition or whereabouts. Tashi Rabten was a father of three. The Tibet Post International has received a letter written in Chinese by Tashi Rabten before his protest. The full text, as published by TPI, is reproduced below: The letter, dated December 08, 2016, was received by the Tibet Post International on the next day of his self-immolation protest, and translated by Phurbu Dolma, staff writer of TPI from Chinese into English. The full letter is below: I am a Tibetan, so I am not a Chinese. As a Tibetan with the Chinese passport, I am willing to cry for the human rights and democracy for 1.3 billion of people. However, as an authentic Tibetan, I should cry for our territory and freedom even more! Today, I will leave this world. But I believe that I am moving closer to our Tibetan belief. We are destined to use this approach to pursue and obtain our already-lost and fading-away homeland. We are destined to use self-immolation to call back our Tibetan belief and territory that has been isolated. We are willing to follow our His Holiness [the Dalai Lama]. We only choose peaceful ways to solve our problem with the Chinese government. We Tibetans do not want the Massacre and inhuman invasion war by China's People's Liberation Army back in 1958 to happen again. We don't want to be called as "riot" (beating, smashing, and robbery) as in 2008. Other than Chinese within China, almost nobody in the world believes that our Tibetans are having a "riot". Because most Chinese within China are brainwashed. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China, they are always in the status of being brainwashed, singing the Chinese Communist Party's "red songs", envisioning the great leader is progressing, constructing the "Four Modernity". In that period of 2008, who were really rioting? It was the Armed Police and the Chinese Army dispatched by the Chinese government that were really launching a 'beating, smashing, robbery, killing' campaign. In the past, Chinese swore the Japanese "Three Alls" policy (a colonial control measure). It might be purely conjecture, or it might have actually taken place. I don't know if it was real or not. In fact, as a Tibetan, I don't have hatred towards the Japanese. I like Japanese and respect Japanese. However, the Chinese army really executed a policy as such in the Tibetan region, especially in Tibetan monasteries. They were recklessly beating us Tibetans, beating our renowned monks, smashing our Buddhist statues in the monasteries, and robbing the artifacts in the monasteries. They murdered nuns, monks, and young students with guns. They also murdered many pilgrims to Lhasa with guns. The 1958 policy of burning down the monastery, has been replaced by tanks and bulldozers. Nowadays, in many places in our Tibetan region, many monasteries and monk's residences have been crushed into ruins by tanks and bulldozers from the Chinese Armed Police and the Chinese Army. In all, my words are hereby sent to you. Don't think I am joking. I am ernest. I want people understand that we Tibetans actually are not afraid of death. Yet, for the peaceful resolution, I can only use self-immolation to warn people. We Tibetans need to be protected and taken care of. We need to be on our own land, living like real people. Long live the Tibetans. Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama! 08/12/2016, at Machu, by the Firing Bird

May 7: 2016 / Sonam Tso, a mother of five has self-immolated near a monastery in Dzoege county in Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Sonam, who was in her 50s, self-immolated on March 23 calling out for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for freedom for Tibet. Reports of the incident are only now emerging from Tibet, via Radio Free Asia, because of the communication clampdown imposed by Chinese authorities in the area.  She died at the monastery before her husband and uncle, who is a monk, could take her to hospital. Sonam’s uncle Tsultrim was detained by police for eight days because he discussed the incident with other people, and he was forced to delete the pictures he had taken of Sonam’s protest. Sonam Tso’s husband Kalsang Gyaltsen was also called in for questioning three times. She has left behind two sons and three daughters. Her self-immolation is the second inside Tibet this year, the first was Kalsang Wangdue, a monk from Kardze, in February.

Feb 29: 2016 / Dorjee Tsering, a 15-year-old Tibetan boy living in Herbertpur town near Dehradun has self-immolated and is in hospital in Delhi suffering from 95% burns. Dorjee said, “The reason I resort to burning myself like a choemey (Butter lamp) is because Tibet was occupied by China since 1959 and I have always felt like I needed to do something for the Tibetan cause. Yesterday, I felt as if burning myself up was the only resort left for me.” The Tibet Times has reported that Dorjee’s mother put out the flames and that she said he had talked to her and to his father recently about self-immolating. Dorjee staged his protest outside an old people's home where he had been visiting his grandfather with his family. He died on March 3.

Feb 29: 2016 / Kalsang Wangdu, a Tibetan monk from the Retsokha Aryaling monastery in Kardze, set himself on fire and died in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. Radio Free Asia reports their source in the region as saying “[While he burned], he called out for Tibet’s complete independence”. There are also media reports that “He raised slogans calling for Tibet’s complete independence...Passersby tried to douse the fire and rushed him to a hospital. However, he died on the way”. RFA reports that this self-immolation has not yet been confirmed. Wangdu’s parents are Sotra, and Urgyen Dolma. A candle-lit vigil was held in McLeod Ganj, attended by hundreds of Tibetans and supporters. Radio Free Asia has reported that Wangdu's family are being pressured by local authorities to say he died in a house fire.

Aug 27: Tashi Kyi, a woman in her mid 50s, has died after setting herself on fire in northwest China’s Gansu province, apparently protesting against the demolition of her home and her village by the Chinese authorities. Nearby people tried to save her but she died and her body was taken away by the authorities, despite appeals to let the family perform the last rites. Police and government officials had raided a house, apparently hers, and then started demolishing it and other houses with bulldozers, they also arrested and beat the owner. People were unable to stop them despite physically hanging onto the demolition equipment. Officials said the houses were being demolished because they did not have valid permits. Kyi was a resident of Ngulra village, Sangkok town in Sangchu county in the Kanlho prefecture.

Jul 9: Sonam Topgyal, 26, a monk, became the 142nd person to self-immolate in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. He self-immolated on July 9 at around 4pm in Gesar Square in the Tibetan town of Kyegudo in Qinghai. Photographs showing him on the ground engulfed in flames immediately circulated on social media. The photos also show security personnel forming a cordon around the area and there are anecdotal reports of armed police. He was a monk from Nangchen County who studied at Dzongsar Monastery in Derge County. Further information about Sonam, his condition and whereabouts, has been difficult to obtain due to the shutdown of telephone and internet services in the region, although it is understood that he was taken to hospital. Sonam’s family home was surrounded by police and local people described “intense fear” in the area. A week after his protest it was confirmed that Sonam died a as result of his injuries. He left a statement in his will, dated July 1, addressed to the political heads of minority nationalities, in which he spoke about the Chinese government’s repressive policies and the plight of Tibetans in Tibet under Chinese rule. He vehemently urged his fellow Tibetans to be united to resolve the issue of Tibet, saying “The Chinese government…tries to demolish the very existence of minority communities. Political repression, cultural assimilation, economically marginalisation, social discrimination and environmental destruction in Tibet are the key issues in Tibet…we do not have freedom of speech and there is no one to express our problems”.

May 27: Sangye Tso, a 36-year old Tibetan woman from Amdo Choney county, Kanlho prefecture in Tibet has died after a self-immolation protest. According to initial reports, Sangye Tso set herself on fire at around 4am local time at the entrance of a Chinese government office where authorities of the Public Security Bureau and People’s Armed Police are stationed. After the protest, local authorities took the body away and interrogated Sangye Tso’s family members while restricting their movements. Sangye Tso is survived by her husband Tamdin Wangyal and their two children; Tsering Dhondup and Khatso.

May 20: Tenzin Gyatso, 35, from Khangsar township in Tawu County, eastern Tibet, has set himself ablaze, becoming the 140th Tibetan to self-immolate in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. Gyatso self-immolated outside the venue of a government officials' meeting; he was protesting against weeks of harrassment and police intimidation in Tawu County where Tibetans have been planning to celebrate the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday. Gyatso is married to Sonam Dolma, they have four children. The authorities informed his relatives that he had died and told them to come for his remains.

Apr 16: Ney Kyab, a 45-year old Tibetan man, burned himself to death in the courtyard of his home in Soruma village in Choejema town in Ngaba in protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibetan areas. Kyab had set out offerings on an altar nearby with photos of the Dalai Lama and the 10th Panchen Lama, and he had also sent a photo of himself holding a flower to a friend a few days before his protest. His body was taken away by police. Kyab, whose wife died last year, is survived by seven children. One of his brothers-in-law, Dargye, was one of two men who self-immolated in Lhasa in May 2012. Ngaba county was once part of the Tibetan province of Amdo, but is located today in the Chinese province of Sichuan. It is the epicenter of the Tibetan self-immolation protests which started there in 2009.

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