There have been reports that a monk has set himself alight in protest on the anniversary of a massacre in Ngaba in 2008.
Reports say that 21-year-old Phuntsog Jarutsang (left) of Kirti monastery, Ngaba was beaten by police after the fire was put out, and has since died of his injuries. Following the incident, it appears that other monks have protested and that a large military presence has built up in the area.
The incident took place in the market area of Ngaba town at around four in the afternoon of 16th March. When Phuntsog set himself alight, Chinese police arrived and put out the fire before beating him and attempting to move him into a waiting van. At this point reports say that a growing crowd of Tibetans moved in to protect Phuntsog from further beatings. “Chinese police and security people present in the area immediately came to the scene and kicked and beat him as they extinguished the flames” said Tsering, a monk at the ‘twinned’ Kirti monastery in India, which has connections with Kirti in Ngaba, Tibet. Reports confirm that Phuntsog has since died, probably as the result of burns.
Phuntsog, who died early on March 17th
After the initial incident, hundreds of Tibetans from up to a mile away gathered and began to chant anti-government slogans and to call for some 30 monks detained for stepping in to protect Phuntsog earlier to be released. Over 1,500 people, most monks, were said to have protested, and were dispersed by Chinese security forces. An unknown number were detained while several were reportedly assaulted with electric batons and iron rods and have sustained injuries. Some have since been released.
Tibetans in Ngaba surround the bodies of those shot in the town in March 2008
The situation in Ngaba is said to be tense, but despite the state of military lockdown which has been imposed since the incident, some local Tibetans have managed to get information out. One local who works at a hotel near Kirti monastery told AFP news agency “The crossroads to the monastery (is) blocked by police. People are allowed to enter but the monks are not allowed to go out… the stores in this street were all closed.” Now that the authorities have placed the town under lockdown and cut phone lines in the area, it is difficult to clarify what is happening in Ngaba.
The incident seems to be reminiscent of a self-immolation protest carried out by a monk called Tabe in February 2009. Tabe, another monk in his twenties from Kirti monastery, walked into the market square with a hand-drawn Tibetan national flag, chanting slogans. He then set himself alight but witnesses heard shots fired by Chinese security before seeing Tabe fall to the ground. The fire was extinguished and Tabe bundled into a van. It later transpired that Tabe had been told that his legs would have to be amputated but he refused; it was suggested that the operation was demanded to remove bullet holes in his legs rather than because his legs had been badly burnt. These later reports were never fully confirmed and Tabe’s whereabouts and welfare are unknown.
Tabe’s self-immolation protest and apprehension in 2009
Kirti monastery has a history of protest against Chinese rule, and this was never more evident than in spring 2008. Protests swept across Tibet in 2008. Over 100 separate incidents, the vast majority of them entirely peaceful, saw Tibetans from all walks of life stand up to proclaim their rejection of the Chinese occupation of their land. These protests were met with brutal crackdowns and massacres by Chinese state forces, and the true numbers of dead, injured, imprisoned and missing remain unclear. When Tibetans staged peaceful protests on March 16th 2008, Chinese armed police fired on unarmed protesters in Ngaba, killing at least 10 innocent Tibetans.
Photos of the dead from this protest made headlines across the world, proving that the Chinese state’s rhetoric about how they were dealing with the spring 2008 protests was false. Since spring 2008, the Chinese state has been even more careful about preventing evidence of atrocities from getting into media reports, imposing communications blackouts, banning journalists and cutting internet and mobile phone network access during periods when protests are likely. Just this month, BBC reporter Damian Grammaticas was beaten by Chinese security while he tried to cover a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protest in China, showing that the Chinese government has not changed its brutal tact since the horrific events of 2008.
Tibetans protest in 2008
The actions of monks like Phuntsog and Tabe underline the depth of feeling that the Tibetan people have against Chinese rule and the way they are treated by the Chinese state in their own land. The situation is so bad in Tibet that men with their whole lives ahead of them feel they must do this to draw attention to their people’s cause. When incidents like this happen, we are reminded again of the human cost of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and how important it is that we get the word out about the Tibetan people’s plight and demand an end to the Chinese occupation.
You can express your concern about this case by writing to the Chinese Embassy in the UK or sending an email. Please tell them that you are disturbed by this news and would like to be assured that those who have been detained are now safe and well. You can contact the embassy here:
Ambassador: Liu Xiaoming
Address: 49-51 PORTLAND PLACE LONDON W1B 1JL
Tel: 0044-20-72994049, 0797 0292561 (24 hours)
Administrative Office: 72994021
Political Office: 72994037
Press Office: 72994070, 72994071
Read more in this New York Times article
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