First Tibetan Self-Immolation of 2017: Reports

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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Reports are emerging that a 24-year-old set himself on fire in protest over China's rule in Tibet.

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A 24-year-old Tibetan man self-immolated in protest of Chinese rule in Tibet on March 18 in Nyagrong County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in the western region of China’s Szechuan Province, according to a statement from Free Tibet.

His condition and whereabouts have not been confirmed.

Pema Gyaltsen, also called Pegyal, set himself on fire at around 4 p.m. local time near a monastery. Police arrived at the scene to put out the fire and remove the body, according to Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Tibetan Service.

Gyaltsen is the first Tibetan living in China to self-immolate this year. The previous known case took place on Dec. 8, 2016, when Tashi Rabten, 33, set himself on fire in Gansu province, according to London-based Free Tibet.

An exiled Tibetan told RFA’s Mandarin Service that Gyaltsen shouted slogans protesting China’s “repressive rule” in Tibet before setting himself on fire.

One anonymous source from the Tibetan exiled community told RFA Tibet that Gyaltsen was taken to hospital and was still alive, however, another said that he had died.

Another Tibetan exile with contacts in Nyagrong told the Central Tibetan Administration, the exiled Tibetan government in India, that 10 of Gyaltsen’s relatives went to the police station to claim his body in the evening, but they were severely beaten and detained overnight. While in detention, they were made to stand through the night.

RFA reports that Gyaltsen’s family members were released on March 19 under the guarantee of a Nyagrong official. Some of his relatives could barely walk after being released, RFA reports.

The area where Gyaltsen’s self-immolation protest took place was quickly put on lockdown by the Chinese police, Free Tibet reports. Phone lines and internet service in Nyagrong was also cut by the authorities.

Meanwhile, Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala, India, held a candlelit vigil for Gyaltsen on March. 19. Gyaltsen is the eldest of five siblings and the main breadwinner of his family.

Gyaltsen is the 147th Tibetan living in China to self-immolate in protest of China’s occupation of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s exile. Some 120 have died carrying out their protests. Most of the protesters were Tibetan monks and nuns.

Chinese Communists invaded Tibet in 1949, and the Chinese authorities have continued to suppress Tibetan culture and religion since then as part of what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation.” More than 6,000 Tibetan monasteries have been destroyed, and Tibetans living in China who have protested against China have been subject to human rights abuses.

China has sought to include self-immolation in Tibet in separatism-related crimes and has accused the Dalai Lama of “dividing the nation” and inciting the wave of self-immolation protests that began in 2009. Chinese officials have also claimed protesters who self-immolated were “outcasts, criminals and mentally ill.” The Dalai Lama does not encourage self-immolations.

Gyaltsen’s self-immolation comes just a week after Tibetans across the world marked the 58th Anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day on March 10. More than 100 rallies were staged in London, New York, Paris and other cities to commemorate the Tibetan rebellion against Chinese occupying forces in 1959. Tibetans surrounded the Dalai Lama’s summer palace in Lhasa amid fears that Chinese troops would kidnap him. The Dalai Lama escaped to India seven days later.

In Kardze, Chinese authorities cut all communication to several cities in Kardze, including Nyagrong, before the anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day, RFA’s Mandarin Service reports. Phone and internet service was returned to the region on March 17.

Editor: Edward White

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