Tibetan environmental protest leader Tsewang Kyab dies

Tsewang Kyab
Tsewang Kyab

3rd May 2017

The leader of protests against a gold mine has died 11 months after police left him hospitalised

Community protest leader Tsewang Kyab has died less than a year after being detained following protests against a gold mine in Amchok Township, Sangchu County, Eastern Tibet. In his 50s, Tsewang Kyab passed away after a long illness following brutalisation in police custody. He was arrested in June 2016 (shortly after the protests) and suffered internal organ damage due to the severe beatings and torture he received. Local Tibetans believe that these injuries are what lead to his death on 25 April 2017.

Tortured in custody

After 16 years of local opposition, in May and June 2016, hundreds of Tibetans staged protests against a large-scale gold mining operation at the mountain of Nyenchen Gong-Ngon La Ri. Local people consider this mountain sacred and believe it has been their divine protector for centuries. Tsewang Kyab was among the community leaders arrested at the protests.

In police custody, Tsewang Kyab was subjected to interrogations, beatings and torture. Although, along with the other community leaders, he was later released, Tsewang Kyab returned home in poor health and subsequently suffered from serious illness. His family took him to various hospitals but he was not able to recover and last week he died at his home.  

A passion for community and environment

Tsewang Kyab was from Angon village of Amchok Township, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. He was an environmentalist with a great sense of community. At the Gong-Ngon La Ri protests, he spoke powerfully about what the mountain, and protecting it, means to the community:

This sacred mountain passes by many generations. How does it look if such a holy and beautiful mountain is devastated into strips just for money? It really hurts us and pains us deeply. We are not asking for anything other than to save this sacred mountain.

During the protests, Tsewang Kyab spoke to Chinese authorities and urged them to stop the mining. In remonstrating with them, he conveyed how the local Tibetans believe Chinese President Xi Jinping to be a good leader, as one who speaks of fighting against corruption and conspiracy, but insisted that the land is sacred to the community and that they should be allowed to stay on it, saying: 

You say that this land belongs to the nation and we don't deny that fact, but we also belong here and we have every right and desire to belong to this land and to protect and save it. This land we are on is sacred to us, it protects us and it's precious to us and so it brings us hope and happiness and you are destroying it piece by piece for some individuals' monetary profits. It hurts us physically to see this happening because we know we won't get this back once destroyed. We cannot accept it come what may.

Tsewang Kyab can be seen in the following video, speaking passionately at the demonstrations.

Recent years have seen escalations in Chinese industrial extraction of Tibet’s natural resources. The Tibetan environment is subject to diverse forms of damage, and Tibetans themselves do not economically benefit from this exploitation, with the profits accrued going to the Chinese state.