50th and 51st Tibetans set fire to themselves to protest China's occupation

Monday, 27 August 2012

Two teenagers set fire to themselves today in protest at China’s occupation of Tibet, bringing the number of confirmed self-immolations in Tibet since 2009 to 51 (1).

Lobsang Kalsang, an 18-year-old monk, and Damchoek, a 17-year-old former monk, set themselves alight between 8:30 and 9am (local time) this morning outside Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, Eastern Tibet (2). Both men died this evening (local time), having been taken to Barkham Hospital by Chinese authorities.

Damchoek was the brother of Tenzin Choedon, a teenage nun who set fire to herself in February this year (3). Lobsang Kalsang’s room-mate at Kirti Monastery was detained this afternoon.

Self-immolations are part of a much wider pattern of protests across Tibet. Many thousands of Tibetans are risking their lives to call for freedom and demonstrate their rejection of China’s rule in the Tibet Spring.

The motivation for protests is clear: Tibetans are calling for freedom. Cousins Sonam and Choephak Kyap (4) left a message before they self-immolated saying: “We the Tibetan people suffer without our human rights. The suffering Tibetan people experience due to the denial of our freedom is much greater than the suffering of setting [our bodies] on fire” (5).

Tenzin Kaldrup said he and his friend had set themselves on fire “for the sake of Tibet… Every nationality needs freedom, language and tradition… I just wish to raise the prestige of my people.” Footage smuggled out of Tibet available from Free Tibet (6) shows Tenzin and his friend Nyawang holding the banned Tibetan flag as they set fire to themselves in June 2012 (7).

Tibetans from all walks of life are participating in the Tibet Spring. Those who set fire to themselves come from diverse backgrounds: a mother of three (8), a nomadic man in his 60s (9), a schoolgirl (10), nuns (11) and monks. More than two-thirds of those who have set themselves on fire are under 25. They have only known life under Chinese rule, and yet still they reject it.

Tibetans have no political or legal redress for their grievances. Even the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue, that international governments have long-hidden behind as an excuse for their inaction, has collapsed (12).

In towns across Tibet ordinary people – hundreds of students and thousands of townspeople (13) - are taking to the streets to call for freedom. Others have dared to call for freedom alone, including a seventeen-year-old girl who was beaten and disappeared after her solo protest (14).

China is doing everything it can to suppress protests, reacting to dissent with disproportionate force. Chinese state security forces have opened fire on peaceful protesters on at least three separate occasions this year, killing more than five and injuring dozens more (15).

China is also going to great lengths to create an information blackout in Tibet, banning international journalists and observers, cutting telephone lines, blocking the internet and meting out severe punishments on Tibetans for sharing information. Yonten Gyatso was tortured in detention before being sentenced to seven years for sharing information about a self-immolation (16). Four Tibetan monks were seized by security forces in Tridu (Chinese: Chengdu) and have been disappeared since January. It is believed they may have been suspected of sharing information about a protest.

Several thousand Tibetans were arbitrarily detained and forcibly removed from Lhasa after two young men doused themselves in petrol and set themselves on fire in front of the city's iconic Jokhang Temple in May (17).

Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said:

“Free Tibet pays its respects to the 51 Tibetans who have set fire to themselves to protest China's occupation. We also salute the indomitable spirit of thousands across Tibet who continue to demonstrate their rejection of Chinese rule despite the consequences of doing so.

“Free Tibet has grave concerns for the well being of the hundreds of Tibetans who we know are in detention following protests, often in locations unknown to their families, without any legal rights and at very serious risk of being tortured.

“Tibetans’ fundamental human rights are being ignored by international leaders who are afraid of risking their relationships with China. The time has come for each one of us to speak up and demand Tibetan freedom.”


Notes to editors

1. Full list of self-immolations in Tibet since 2009: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/selfimmolations

Photographs and videos are available of many of the Tibetan self-immolations referred to in this release, as are earlier portraits of many of those who self-immolated. Please contact Harriet Beaumont on +44 207 324 4605 / +44 7900 203307 or email harriet@freetibet.org

Please credit www.freetibet.org for any footage or photographs

2. Chinese: Aba Town, Aba County, Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan

3. Tenzin Choedon (also spelt Choezin) self-immolation:

4. Press release relating to 5) below: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/two-young-tibetans-self-immolate

5. Video message from cousins who set fire to themselves: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/videos-smuggled-out-tibet

6. Footage of men holding Tibetan flags as they set fire to themselves:


7. Press release relating to 6) above: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/photograph-self-immolation-1-two-tibetan-men-set-fire-themselves

8. Mother of three self-immolates, press release: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/tibetan-mother-three-dies-after-setting-fire-herself

9. Nomadic man self-immolates, press release: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/tibetan-nomad-self-immolates

10. Schoolgirl self-immolates, press release: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/tibetan-schoolgirl-self-immolates

11. Nun self-immolates, press release: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/031111-second-nun-dies-0

12. The Tibetan envoys who represented the Dalai Lama in negotiations with China over Tibet resigned in June 2012. Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen have led the talks since 2002 and their resignations expose the frustration at the collapse of the dialogue.

It has been evident that China has little intention of engaging in meaningful dialogue since the Chinese government announced in 2008 that it will never accept calls by the Dalai Lama for greater autonomy in Tibet, saying that China will "never allow ethnic splitting in the name of genuine autonomy".

In January 2010, Chinese negotiator Zhu Weiqun said that there was no possibility of the “slightest compromise” on the issue of sovereignty in Tibet and that the two sides were still "sharply divided".


13. Thousands protest in Rebkong: http://freetibet.org/newsmedia/largest-protest-living-memory-rebkong-after-father-sets-himself-fire

14. Teenage Tibetan girl beaten by security forces: http://freetibet.org/newsmedia/teenage-girl-severely-beaten

15. Two shot dead in Serthar: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/second-day-killing-tibet-two-more-shot-dead-many-more-injured-second-town

Two shot dead, at least 36 sustain gunshot wounds in Drango: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/two-killed-and-more-wounded-confirmed-draggo

Man shot dead in Barma: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/press-release-tibetan-shot-dead-ngaba-autonomous-prefecture

16. Monk receives seven year sentence for sharing information: http://freetibet.org/newsmedia/seven-year-sentence-sharing-information

17. Lhasa self-immolations: http://www.freetibet.org/newsmedia/tibet-spring-reaches-capital-lhasa

Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans to be respected.