24-year-old Tibetan self-immolates in eastern Tibet

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Pema Gyaltsen, a 24-year-old Tibetan man, set himself on fire yesterday, 18 March 2017, outside Tsokha Monastery in Nyarong, Kardze, eastern Tibet (1).

Pema Gyaltsen (2) carried out his protest yesterday at 4pm local time. Shortly afterwards, a large detachment of police and security forces arrived at the scene to take him away. 

Local sources say he was unable to complete the self-immolation before the police arrived and looked to have been alive when he was taken away.  We have been unable to confirm his current condition due to communication restrictions which have been imposed on the area.

Self-immolation protests are not always fatal and, should he have survived, Pema Gyaltsen would most likely face harsh treatment in detention with no guarantee of medical treatment, followed by a long prison sentence.

Police have remained in Nyarong and the internet in this area has been cut in order to prevent the spread of information. The Chinese authorities take self-immolation protests very seriously and the sites of such protests are frequently locked down by police and other security forces. 

The scale of the police presence in Nyarong has been shown in a minute-long video that emerged on social media today (3).

This is the first self-immolation in Tibet since Tashi Rabten died after setting himself on fire in Machu County, eastern Tibet, in December 2016 (4). Over 140 Tibetans have carried out self-immolation protests in Tibet since 2009. The majority of these protests have been fatal (5).

Nyarong was the site of a previous self-immolation protest in 2016. In March of that year, 18-year-old Kalsang Wangdu set himself on fire near his monastery in Nyarong County.  He died of his wounds (6).

Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:

This self-immolation protest comes just a week after Tibetans and Tibet supporters commemorated the anniversary of the 1959 Uprising and right at the end of the Tibetan Losar (New Year) celebrations. We might see new year as a time for change and for new beginnings, but for Tibetans it is also another year of occupation, of human rights abuses, of seeing their country, culture, history and dignity under attack.  Pema Gyaltsen, like over 140 Tibetans before him, has lived under abuses that we can scarcely imagine and was pushed to make this ultimate sacrifice. 

“Beijing, meanwhile, has clearly decided to continue using the same repressive tactics that have failed repeatedly in previous years: drag away the protester, send in the police, cut the internet. The Chinese authorities must realise that this approach will not work. Tibetans are risking their lives, frequently giving their lives, to oppose a military occupation that they refuse to yield to. The root causes of self-immolations lie in this occupation and the human right abuses that are carried out to preserve it. China must change course and the international community should be vocal and strong in its efforts to bring about this change.”

A candle-lit vigil for Pema Gyaltsen was held by Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala this evening (local time) (7).

Information supplied to Free Tibet by Tibet Watch.


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Notes to editors

  1. Location: Nyarong County (Ch: Xinlong), in Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
  2. A photo of Pema Gyaltsen can be found on the website of the Central Tibetan Administration here: http://tibet.net/2017/03/latest-self-immolation-protest-by-a-tibetan-man-reported-in-tibet/
  3. Video available at: https://youtu.be/6R8ytnrWyUs
  4. See here for further details about Tashi Rabten: https://freetibet.org/news-media/na/%E2%80%9Cwe-are-destined-self-immolate%E2%80%9D
  5. The first self-immolation in Tibet took place in 2009. There were no further self-immolations until March 2011, with the peak number of self-immolations (83 confirmed cases) taking place in 2012. For a full list of self-immolation protesters see:  http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/full-list-self-immolations-tibet
  6. See here for further details about Kalsang Wangdu: https://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/first-self-immolation-tibet-august-2015-confirmed
  7. Photos of the vigil are available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/organize/?start_tab=new_set