Mother of five dies in self-immolation protest

Portrait: Sonam Tso self-immolation March 23 2016
Sonam Tso
7th May 2016

Free Tibet has confirmed that on March 23, Sonam Tso set herself alight and later died of her injuries in Dzoege County, Ngaba Prefecture. News of her protest has only just emerged because of a total clampdown on communications in the area - a common tactic by security forces after such protests. Her self-immolation is the second in Tibet this year, following that of Kalsang Wangdu in February. 16-year-old Dorjee Tsering also died three days after setting himself alight in India in February.

Call for freedom and Dalai Lama

The protest took place around midday as Sonam Tso and her husband, Kalsang Gyaltsen, were walking around the local Sera Monastery.  At one point she asked him to go ahead and said she would join him later.  A few minutes later one of the monks heard someone calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet.  He then saw Sonam Tso on fire and calling out the slogans.  He called for help then he and Sonam's Tso's husband tried to put out the flames.  With the help of another monk named Tsultrim, who was also Sonam Tso's uncle, they brought her body inside the monastery and arranged a vehicle to take her to hospital.  However, she died before they were able to leave the monastery.

Sonam Tso was around 50 years old and the mother of five children: three daughters and two sons.  She was from Dotsa village, within the same township as Sera monastery.

Family intimidated

Tsultrim was arrested after the protest on charges of having shared information about Sonam Tso's self-immolation.  He was released after eight days in detention and was forced to delete the photograph he had taken of the protest.  Kalsang Gyaltsen was also called in for questioning three times. The family of Kalsang Wangdu who self-immolated in February were also threatened.

Protest and clampdown

Although it is common for local authorities to shut down communications after protests and threaten Tibetans if they share information, it is very unusual for information of a protest to take so long to emerge. The Ngaba region of south-east Tibet is one of the most politically active in Tibet, however, with a very strong security presence. A number of protests by monks from the Kirti Monastery there have taken place recently.


Take action

Chinese-occupied Tibet has some of the harshest restrictions on civil liberties in the world. Take action for Thardhod Gyaltsen, a monk sentenced to 18 years in jail for owning pictures and recordings of the Dalai Lama, prohibited under Chinese rule.