Tibetan man self-immolates after security and propaganda campaign

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Condition of Tenzin Gyatso unknown following protest in Tawu County, eastern Tibet

35 year old Tenzin Gyatso set himself alight at around 8pm (local time) on 20 May 2015 close to government offices in Tawu County, eastern Tibet (1, portrait photo available). Police immediately arrived at the scene and took him away. His body showed signs of severe burns but because of heavy restrictions on communications in the Tawu area it is not known whether he survived or died.

A few days prior to his protest, the area had been subject to intensive campaigning by officials from Township and County levels in the area to discourage and intimidate local Tibetans, as the authorities feared that local Tibetans planned to celebrate the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama. In July 2013, Tibetans gathered to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday in Tawu were fired upon by security forces, causing at least seven severe injuries, with many subsequent arrests and reports of torture in detention (2).

A large number of armed police were also deployed in the area in recent days and a number of local Tibetans were arrested in spot checks. Monk Tsewang Choephel was arrested on 18 May and locals believe his arrest was connected to his presence at the self-immolation of a fellow monk in Tawu in December 2014 (3). Local Tibetans believe Tenzin Gyatso set himself ablaze mainly to protest the massive deployment of security forces in the area.

Free Tibet campaign manager Alistair Currie says:

“Although 2015 so far has seen fewer significant protests of all kinds than in any other year this decade, Tenzin Gyatso’s self-immolation and the many other smaller scale or individual protests that have taken place this year are a reminder that Tibetan grievances remain deep and opposition to China’s occupation is still very strong. China’s actions certainly bear this out, with a swathe of arrests, targeted propaganda and acts of intimidation across Tibet in recent months. Its approach in Tawu is typical of its current policies, which are exactly those which foment Tibetan anger and resistance. The Dalai Lama’s forthcoming 80th birthday is also a particularly sensitive time and we are likely to continue to see a cycle of repression and protest as the year goes on, with a significant increase in protest a real possibility.” (4)

Tenzin Gyatso has four children with his wife Sonam Dolma. Their children are Topden, Thupten, Tsering Tsomo and Tsewang Gyatso. His is the fourth self-immolation of 2015. The total number of self-immolations in Tibet is 138, with another two fire deaths unconfirmed as self-immolations but likely to be (5).

Information supplied by Tibet Watch.

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For further information or comment, contact Free Tibet campaigns and media manager Alistair Currie:
E: alistair@freetibet.org
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605

Notes to editors
(1) Location: from Khangsar Township, Tawu County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Ch: Kongse Township, Daofu, Ganzi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province). Portrait photographs available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157653134489676
(2) See Free Tibet press release 17 July 2013 http://freetibet.org/news-media/pr/tibetans-tortured-detention-following-shooting-dalai-lama-birthday-celebrations
(3) See Free Tibet news story 19 May 2015 http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/more-detentions-tibet
(4) For other protests in Tibet this year, see Free Tibet Protests news http://freetibet.org/about/tibets-resistance/protest-latest; for examples of recent arrests see Free Tibet news articles http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/young-writer-arrested-chinas-police-0 and http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/further-arrests-sog-county; propaganda includes calls by the Tibetan party chief for monasteries to fly the red flag and monks and nuns to face “assessments” of loyalty http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11523787/Let-the-red-flag-fly-over-Tibet-monasteries-says-Chinas-top-official-in-the-region.html. In March 2015, China staged a massive military show of force at a major prayer festival in Tibet http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/chinas-display-force-tibetan-religious-festival
(5) The first self-immolation in Tibet took place in 2009 and there were no further self-immolations until March 2011. 2012 saw the peak number (so far) of self-immolations, with 83 confirmed. Full list of self-immolation protesters at http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/full-list-self-immolations-tibet