2011: In review

23rd December 2011

2011 was an extraordinary year for Tibet.

12 Tibetan men and women set themselves on fire to protest China's occupation.

For so many individuals to take this action in such a short timeframe, for the same cause, is unprecendented. Their actions put the struggle for Tibetan freedom onto the world stage.

This is a selection of events - it is not intended to be exhaustive.


6 February: An advertisement aired during the Superbowl caused controversy as it appears to make light of the situation in Tibet.

Despite this, the Groupon ad had a silver lining as it became a much-talked about topic, raising awareness of the issue.


16 March: Phuntsog, a 21-year-old monk from Kirti Monastery in Ngaba set himself on fire. He died later in hospital.

Phuntsog performed the act on the third anniversary of demonstrations in Ngaba when Chinese authorities killed at least 13 protestors. He was also heard calling for the return of the Dalai Lama.

Six monks faced charges in relation to the events – three were given lengthy prison sentences.

A few weeks later Free Tibet released video footage which disproved China’s claim that the situation in Ngaba following the self-immolation was ‘harmonious’.


27 April: Dr Lobsang Sangay was elected as Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) of the Tibetan Government in Exile. Over 50,000 Tibetans, living in 30 countries, voted in the elections.

The announcement of the new Kalon Tripa came just a month after the Dalai Lama announced his intention to give up his political duties to focus on his role as spiritual leader.


15 August: Tsewang Norbu, a 29-year-old monk, died setting himself on fire in the centre of the town of Tawu.

He was heard calling out: “We Tibetan people want freedom”, “Long live the Dalai Lama” and “Let the Dalai Lama Return to Tibet”.

Shortly after details emerged about Tsewang's death, telephone lines were cut and internet cafes closed in an effort to control news spreading across Tibet and being shared with the outside world.

22 August: British band Cornershop collaborate with Free Tibet to produce a video for their new single which highlights the situation in Tibet and the Free Tibet campaign.


26 September: Two young monks, Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchok, aged between 18 and 19 years old, also from Kirti monastery, set fire to themselves.

Lobsang Kelsang is the brother of Phuntsog, the monk who died in March. The monks waved the banned Tibetan flag and called for religious freedom and “Long live the Dalai Lama” before they self-immolated.

Their well-being and whereabouts are still unknown.


1 October: Several hundred people were reported to have gathered in Serthar on 1 October. They chant “we want freedom”. A leaflet was distributed calling on ‘Tibetan brethren’ not to ‘fall asleep under the oppression of the Chinese’.

3 October: Kalsang Wangchuk, a young monk believed to be 17 or 18 years old, from Kirti Monastery, Ngaba County, eastern Tibet, set himself on fire near the vegetable market in Ngaba Town. His well-being and whereabouts are still unknown.

7 October: Two former monks, Choepel (right, 19) and Khayang (18) self-immolate in Ngaba. Both died within days.

15 October: Norbu Dathul, 19, a former monk from Kirti monastery set himself alight at the central market in Ngaba Town. Police put out the flames and he was driven away in a police car. There were reports that the police beat him while they were trying to put out the flames. His well-being and whereabouts are still unknown.

The same day seven people are arrested after protesting outside a police station in Khekor Township.

16 October: A further protest took place outside the police station in Khekor Township and two Tibetans were shot. It’s not known why security personnel opened fire. It was reported that they were escorted away by the local community

17 October: Tenzin Wangmo became the first Tibetan nun to self-immolate. The 20-year-old set herself on fire outside Dechen Chokorling nunnery, three kilometres from Ngaba Town. She died at the scene.

22 October: Free Tibet also received reports of a self-immolation that might have taken place in Barkham County, eastern Tibet. We are still unable to confirm or to deny these reports.

25 October: Dawa Tsering self-immolated in Kandze Town. The monk who is believed to be in his 30s is said to have suffered serious burns. His well-being and whereabouts are unknown.


3 November: Palden Choetso, a 35-year-old nun, set herself on fire in the centre of Tawu. She was heard to call out “long live the Dalai Lama” and “let the Dalai Lama” return to Tibet.

Video footage of Palden Choetso on fire later caused a stir in western media.

Free Tibet also received video footage of a candlelight vigil which took place in her honour.

7 November: British actor Dominic West spent time in Dharamsala with Free Tibet. He met two torture victims – including Lhamo Kyab, whose testimony he had already read for a Free Tibet video.

Free Tibet later released a video of Dominic recounting his experiences.


1 December: The 12th self-immolation of 2011; Tenzin Phuntsog, a former monk in his forties, set fire to himself in Karma Township in Chamdo. He died from his injuries one week later.

This was the first self-immolation known to have taken place in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

2 December: Photographs of a crackdown by Chinese authorities following the 2008 protests emerged.

The photos show monks and lay people being handcuffed with placards around their necks which are believed to announce their names and ‘crimes’. The purpose of this action is to intimidate the Tibetan community and prevent future protest.

4 December: Two giant pandas, which China has loaned to the UK, arrive in Edinburgh. The animals are part of China’s charm offensive. Free Tibet responded by saying that ‘there is nothing cute or cuddly about China's occupation of Tibet.’

9 December: A video documenting house arrests in 2008 emerged.