Tibetan monk shot by Chinese police after setting himself alight in tense Ngaba

Friday, 27 February 2009

Chinese armed police today shot at a Tibetan monk after he had set himself alight in protest at religious restrictions in the restive area of Ngaba county (Chinese: Aba county, Sichuan province) in eastern Tibet.

According to eyewitness accounts received by Free Tibet, Tabe, a Tibetan monk in his 20s from the local Kirti monastery, walked alone from the monastery along the market road into Ngaba town at around 1.40pm Beijing time. He was shouting slogans and holding aloft a self-drawn Tibetan national flag, according to the sources.

On arriving in the main town area, Tabe poured petrol over himself and set himself alight. According to sources he was immediately surrounded by several armed Chinese police. The eyewitnesses reported seeing the armed police pointing guns at Tabe after he had set himself alight and then heard three separate gun shots. The monk immediately fell to the ground. According to the eyewitnesses the police extinguished the flames almost immediately after Tabe had collapsed to the ground and then transferred Tabe’s body to a nearby van which drove away to an unknown location.

The eyewitnesses were unable to confirm whether Tabe had been killed or not as a result of his injuries.

Less than an hour before the shooting at around 1pm Beijing time, 1000 monks at Kirti monastery had gathered in front of the monastery’s main prayer hall to observe the Monlam festival which traditionally falls on the third day of Losar, the Tibetan new year. The monks had gathered in defiance of an order issued just days before by the Chinese authorities in Ngaba, prohibiting the monks from observing Monlam. On gathering in front of the prayer hall at around 1pm Beijing time, the monks had found the doors to the hall locked. Members of the monastery’s Democratic Management Committee (1) quickly appeared and, together with the abbot of Kirti monastery, asked the monks to return to their rooms. The monks returned to their rooms but Tabe left the monastery at about 1.40pm to walk into the town.

Background: one year of intense repression at Kirti monastery following massacre in Ngaba county in March 2008:

Kirti monastery has been under intense surveillance and subjected to frequent repression and restrictions since armed Chinese troops opened fire on unarmed Tibetan protesters in Ngaba town on 16 March last year. Free Tibet reported then (2) that, according to eyewitnesses, between 13 and 30 Tibetans were shot dead and many more injured. Bodies of the dead protesters were brought into Kirti following the shooting last March and photographs (3) of the corpses were relayed to the international media by Free Tibet. The area surrounding Kirti monastery has been strictly policed since March 2008; no journalists have been able to reach Kirti monastery to verify independently the widely-reported shootings. In September 2008 Free Tibet reported further repression at Kirti (4) after 50 monks were severely beaten with rifle butts, spades and meat cleavers by armed police.

Protests escalating across Tibet as China provocatively deploys thousands of extra troops into region on eve of sensitive anniversary

Tensions and resentment of Chinese policies among Tibetans have reached simmering point following a year of worsening repression and a recent flooding of Tibet with thousands of extra troops, intended to send a clear message to Tibetans that even the mildest expressions of dissent will be dealt with severely. The shooting of the monk in Ngaba county today follows a spate of protests in recent days in other restive areas across the Tibetan Plateau. Last week Free Tibet reported two days of protests involving hundreds of Tibetans in the restive region of Lithang (5). Free Tibet earlier this week distributed images (6) showing an overt and provocative military presence in the monastery town of Labrang in eastern Tibet (Ch: Xia He, Gansu province). The build-up in Labrang is consistent with eyewitness accounts of similar build-ups in other areas of Tibet. On 21 February The Times reported that two divisions of troops including as many as 20,000 troops was reported to have been moved into eastern Tibet (7). Despite such openly provocative deployments, Tibetans have continued to protest. Yesterday Radio Free Asia reported a peaceful protest march by monks from the Lutsang monastery in the Tsolho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Qinghai province (8).

Stephanie Brigden, director of Free Tibet, said:

“Tabe’s actions in setting himself alight reflect the desperation of the entire Tibetan people who have undergone relentless repression in the last year. The use of firearms on a protester today is a clear warning that China is determined to use lethal and excessive force on protesters. And with Tibetans showing an increased determination to protest in the face of highly provocative military build-ups within Tibet, a bloody repeat of last year’s crackdown by China looks increasingly likely. To avert such a catastrophic re-run of last year’s violent crackdown, governments and international leaders must urgently demand immediate guarantees from China that its forces will not be allowed to commit the same grave abuses and killing of Tibetan protesters that we saw this time last year.”


For further information:

Matt Whitticase, External Communications: t: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 (o) / +44(0)7515 788456 or email: matt@freetibet.org

Stephanie Brigden, Director: t: +44 (0)20 7324 4605 (o) / +44 (0)7530 528264

Notes to Editor:

(1)Democratic Management Committees (DMCs) are one of the various measures, or restrictions, imposed on Tibetan monasteries and nunneriesin 1996. Consisting of government-appointed or “patriotic monks”, DMCs replace tradional monastic bodies which for centuries had overseen all religious and administrative aspects of monastic life.

(2) Free Tibet’s report is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/reports-spreading-protests-tibet

(3) Photographs showing the dead bodies brought to Kirti monastery on 16 March 2008 are available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/photos-kirti-monastery-discretion-advised

(4) Free Tibet’s report is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/260908

(5) Free Tibet’s report is available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/170209

(6) Free Tibet’s press release and images confirming the build-up in Labrang are available at: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/250209

(7) There have been widespread reports of similarly large troop build-ups from other areas of Tibet in recent weeks. On 21 February the Tibetan government in exile reported large and overt troop deployments in Labrang as well as Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren, Qinghai province) and Lithang county in eastern Tibet (Chinese province: Sichuan). The report is available at: http://www.tibet.net/en/index.php?id=723&articletype=flash&rmenuid=morenews

The Times newspaper reported on 21 February the deployment of huge numbers of troops from Chengdu into eastern Tibet, stating that as many as 20,000 troops or two divisions may have been deployed, although it was unable to confirm the exact number of troops as the movement of troops is a closely guarded state secret in China. The Times’s report is available at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5775335.ece

(8) Radio Free Asia’s report is available at: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/tibet-march-02262009163337.html