Tibetan man in fatal protest over mining operations

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Yesterday (7 May), a Tibetan man jumped to his death off a school building in Dzogang County, Chamdo, southern Tibet, in protest against mining operations in the area (1). Phakpa Gyaltsen, 39, died at the scene.

Road and bridge construction has recently taken place in the area and Tibetans had learned of plans to mine at two sites in the Mazatso valley and another site near Gyalmo Ngulchu river. They approached the authorities with concerns about natural disasters such as earthquakes resulting from mining activities. They believe the earthquake which occurred in Yushu in 2010 was a result of mining (2).

On 28 April, approximately 20 young men were arrested by the authorities at a protest against the mines. Although the protesters were released after local people appealed for their freedom, authorities instructed the detainees and local Tibetans not to disrupt mining operations. Local families were offered 10,000 Yuan (approx. US$1,600) each but rejected the offer.

On the evening of 6 May, Phakpa Gyaltsen and others were summoned to the offices of the local authorities. On his return, he told local Tibetans that they should stop protesting and he would take action. On the morning of 7 May, he climbed to the rooftop of a high building of the township school and shouted “We Tibetans don't have freedom, Tibet needs independence, let Gyalwa Rinpoche [the Dalai Lama] return to Tibet”. When others tried to stop his protest, he stabbed himself and jumped from the building.

Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

“Five years after Tibet’s first self-immolations, Tibetans continue to take their own lives in protest against China’s policies and rule. One of the great injustices of that rule is that they are denied the right to control their own resources and their own land. Tibetans must witness the destruction of their unique environment for the profit of Chinese companies and the Chinese state. Their ongoing protests against that exploitation have emerged as a central component of Tibetan resistance to China’s occupation.”

China is engaged in environmental exploitation in Tibet on a vast scale. Its projects include gold and copper extraction expected to be worth around a trillion dollars in coming years, damming for hydro-electric power and drilling for fossil fuels (3).

Mining and environmental exploitation are frequent triggers of protest in Tibet (4). A mining protest in Driru County in the neighbouring Nagchu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture last May was the stimulus for an intensive “political re-education” campaign in the area which led to a wave of repression after Tibetans threw Chinese flags into the river. Driru has now seen deaths of Tibetans in custody, the closure of monasteries, demonstrations fired upon with live ammunition and punitive sentences, including one of 13 years for participation in the mining protest (5).

Phakpa Gyaltsen’s protest is the first recent, confirmed case of a suicide protest not involving self-immolation. So far there have been six self-immolations in 2013, with 129 confirmed inside Tibet since 2009 and two possible but unconfirmed (6).

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Contact:

Free Tibet campaigns and media manager Alistair Currie
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605
E: Alistair@freetibet.org

Notes

(1) Location: Tongbar township, Dzogang County, Chamdo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region (Ch: Zuogong county, Changdu Diqu TAP, TAR).
(2) Free Tibet press release 15 April 2010 http://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/150410
(3) For more information see http://freetibet.org/about/tibets-environment
(4) Free Tibet press release 21 October 2013 http://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/machine-gun-fire-tibet-exclusive-video-police-breaking-environmental-protest (video of environmental protest)
(5) Free Tibet news release 8 October 2013 http://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/60-tibetans-injured-security-forces-fire-peaceful-protest. Summary of events http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/new-hub-tibetan-resistance; For a full report see April 2014 Tibet Watch report Driru county: The New Hub of Tibetan Resistance http://www.tibetwatch.org/uploads/2/4/3/4/24348968/driru_county_thematic_report.pdf
(6) Full list of self-immolations http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/full-list-self-immolations-tibet