Dharamsala authorities identify self-immolator

Passang Dhondup
Passang Dhondup

31st July 2017

Passang Dhondup set himself on fire on Saturday; he died as a result of his protest

A Tibetan man who set himself on fire in Dharamsala on Saturday has been identified as Passang Dhondup, a 49-year-old wood painter. Passang Dhondup, whose registered name is Dhondup Denug, died as a result of his protest.

His identity was confirmed in a press conference held today in Dharamsala by Tibetan Settlement officer, Dawa Rinchen.

Engulfed in flames that were out of control

The protest took place at 3pm local time on a roadside near the Dalai Lama’s temple, by a trail that Buddhist worshippers follow when they circumambulate the temple.

Several bystanders witnessed the events. One of them described Passang Dhondup being on his knees, with his body engulfed in flames that were out of control.

Although the man’s motives had not yet been confirmed when the news of the self-immolation broke, further witnesses have now confirmed that this was a protest against China's occupation in Tibet and the continued exile of the Dalai Lama.

One of them, Gurmey Dorjee, said: “I saw a Tibetan man was standing there when I was going for Kora (circumambulation). Once I reached the Prayer wheel, I heard someone shout ‘long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ so clearly. But I simply thought someone who was calling out the voice by expressing his faith in His Holiness. So I went ahead.”

Another eye-witness, an old woman named Bukyi, said “I was going for Kora and saw him when passing through. Just after I passed by, I heard something burning from behind. When I looked back, someone was burning on fire and shouted ‘Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama’. So I was scared and ran ahead to inform other people”.

A Tibetan in exile

Following his self-immolation, Passang Dhondup’s body was taken away by locals and police for examination. Speaking at today's press conference, Dawa Rinchen stated that Passang Dhondup is currently undergoing a post mortem, which they are trying to complete in order to release the body for funeral rites and cremation.

Passang Dhondup was born inside Tibet in the city of Shigatse, close to the borders with India and Bhutan. According to a staff member from Norbulingkha Institute, where Passang Dhondup carried out his wood painting, he had regularly expressed concerns about the situation in Tibet and also had an interest in Tibetan history.

A Tibetan flag was found in a bag near to Passang Dhondup’s body, along with two empty bottles of kerosene or petrol.

Tenzin Choeying

There have been at least nine self-immolation protests by Tibetans outside Tibet since 1998. Earlier this month, 19-year-old student Tenzin Choeying set himself on fire at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India. He was taken to hospital in New Delhi where he died of his wounds on Saturday 22 July. 

Inside Tibet, close to 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, with four cases this year.

Passang Dhondup’s self-immolation is the first case of a Tibetan setting himself alight in Dharamsala, the spiritual and political centre for the Tibetan community in exile.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch

Take action

The Chinese government is threatening Tibetan culture. Religious freedom is not respected by Chinese authorities in Tibet.

13,000 of you have already signed up to our Beyond Belief campaign to prevent China from meddling in Tibetans' freedom of religion. We now want to take our campaign to the next level. If religious leaders from all faiths add their voice then world leaders will be forced to listen. Can you help us build this coalition to stand up for religious freedom in Tibet?