Shocking footage of father of three on fire

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Shocking footage (1) received from Tibet on 19 March 2012, shared at great risk, shows Sonam Dargye in flames as he protests against Chinese rule on 17 March 2012. Sonam, a father of three, self-immolated in Rongwo, the capital of Rebkong County, Malho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Eastern Tibet (2) and died at the scene. Sonam was a close friend of Jamyang Palden (3), who set himself on fire only three days before, on 14 March, and is believed to still be alive.

The footage shows Sonam’s body in flames; bystanders can be heard wailing, some can be seen praying (4). One of the bystanders standing close to the camera cries out about how terribly he is suffering.

Several thousand Tibetans gathered in Rongwo after Sonam’s death in the largest protest in Tibet for many decades (5).

Sonam’s wife and other relatives were distraught at the news that he had given his life, but believe his decision to give his life was important and noble.

Sonam, in his early forties, was a farmer and carpenter. In the days before he set himself in flames he said:

"His Holiness the Dalai Lama must return to Tibet. If he returns, Tibet’s problems will be solved. If not, the future of Tibet is unsure. So we have to make our best effort to ensure the return of His Holiness."

Sonam travelled the 20-minute journey from his village into Rongwo on 16 March and stayed in a hotel overnight. On waking he washed himself, prayed and then drank petrol. He walked out of the hotel, shouted: “Let His Holiness return to Tibet” and then set himself on fire.

Shocking images (6) shared at great risk only hours after Sonam died show Sonam’s charred body and the extent of his injuries. In two photographs his body is still partly in flames. Locals have already placed the ceremonial khatas (ceremonial scarves) over his body.

Sonam’s possessions were found on the bed in his hotel room.

Thousands of Tibetans protest

As news of the self-immolation spread quickly by telephone, several thousand gathered. Monks urged those who gathered to act peacefully and observe non-violence.

A photograph (7) shows monks offering prayers in the square with Sonam’s body covered in ceremonial khatas. His badly burnt face can be seen in the middle of the picture with portraits of the Dalai Lama placed next to his body.

Paramilitary People’s Armed Police trucks arrived at the scene and a small confrontation between Tibetans and the paramilitary broke out (8). A source described how some Tibetans “were ready to fight”. Some Tibetans mediated and the military vehicles withdrew. It is believed that the paramilitary forces had to withdraw given the vast numbers of Tibetans present.
Sonam’s body was cremated on Saturday behind Rongwo monastery, a site ordinarily reserved for monks, as he is considered a hero.

After the cremation, people called for freedom, for the long life and return of the Dalai Lama, and marched from the cremation site to Rongwo town centre. Other people from the town joined them on the streets as they marched.


Notes to Editors

2) Chinese: Tongren, Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai.
4) See footnote 1 above.
6) Please be aware that these images are distressing and show the charred body of Sonam Dargye:
7) Photograph of people praying at Sonam Dargye’s body:
8) Photographs of paramilitary People’s Armed Police in Rongwo, 17 March 2012:
For further information about self-immolations and protests across Tibet:
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