Young Farmer Stages First Tibetan Self-Immolation of 2017

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UPDATED at 11:10  A.M. EDT on 2017-03-19

A 24-year-old Tibetan man set himself on fire Saturday in a protest against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region, the first reported self-immolation of 2017, sources told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Pema Gyaltsen, from Nyagrong (in Chinese, Xinlong) county in Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, around 4 p.m., and police swiftly removed his charred body from the scene, Tibetan sources told RFA.

Two sources from the Tibetan exile community said Gyaltsen, an unmarried farmer, was taken to a hospital in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. One source said the man later died, but the other said his contacts in the region believed he was still alive in hospital.

In a one-minute video clip that was circulating on Tibetan social media, Chinese police are seen dispersing Tibetan onlookers from a scene of commotion, with women crying. Sources told RFA that authorities blocked the popular smartphone application WeChat following the self-immolation.

“In the evening around ten close relatives of Pema Gyaltsen from Nyagrong went to Kardze county police station to see self-immolator Pema Gyaltsen. But the Chinese beat them severely and detained them for the entire night, and forced them to stand up the whole night,” a Tibetan exile source with contacts in the town told RFA.

“Today some of them could barely walk from the beating, but they were released under the guarantee of a Nyagrong official,” the source added.

“He called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and said there is no freedom in Tibet at the time of self-immolation,” another source told RFA.

Gyaltsen was the eldest of five children of his father Wangyal and mother Yullha, and “the main breadwinner of his family and had not attended any school,” the second source added.

The Kardze police station did not answer repeated calls by RFA seeking details of the incident.

Saturday’s protest brings to 147 the number of self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009. The previous known self-immolation was on Dec. 8, when Tashi Rabten, 33, a husband and father of three, set himself on fire and died in Gansu province.

Gyaltsen’s protest was the second case of self-immolation in Nyagrong, following the death of 18-year-old Kalsang Wangdu in March 2016.

Most protests feature demands for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from India, where he has lived since escaping Tibet during a failed national uprising in 1959.

Reported by Lobsang Choephel, Sangyal Dorjee, Dawa Dolma and Pema Ngodup for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

UPDATE: Adds conflicting report on status of Pema Gyaltsen.

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