A Tibetan activist who set fire to himself to protest Chinese rule in a besieged township in Sichuan province on Friday has succumbed to his burns, marking the third self-immolation fatality in a week, sources said.
The 24-year old Choepa died as he was take away by Chinese security forces after he torched himself at the Meruma township in the Ngaba (Aba, in Chinese) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, they said.
“It happened when the Chinese police took him into their custody and rushed him to Barkham [Ma’erkang, in Chinese) county. He died just before reaching Barkham town center,” said Tibetan monks Lobsang Yeshi and Kanyag Tsering, who are living in exile in India.
“His body was cremated at Barkham and the remains were handed over to his family members,” they said in a statement.
Choepa had been on the wanted list of the Chinese authorities for being instrumental in organizing a massive Tibetan protest against Chinese rule in Meruma in January.
“Choepa set himself on fire and protested against the Chinese policy in Meruma,” a nomadic town 27 kilometers (about 17 miles) east of the Ngaba county center, according to Lobsang Yeshi and Kanyag Tsering.
Stephanie Brigden, director of London-based advocacy group Free Tibet, had suggested on Friday that Choepa’s self-immolation could have been sparked by ongoing tensions in Meruma following the January protests which had led to “detentions and disappearances.”
“Like too many Tibetans, [Choepa] felt he had no recourse other than to set himself on fire to protest against China’s occupation,” she said.
“Since security forces used tear gas against unarmed protesters in Meruma in January, Free Tibet has documented large numbers of detentions and disappearances from the township, fueling a climate of fear and defiance,” she pointed out.
Choepa is the third Tibetan to die after self-immolating this week while protesting Chinese rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who is living in exile in Dharamsala.
On Tuesday, a Tibetan woman, Dolkar Tso, took off her clothes and set herself on fire in a monastery’s grounds in the southern part of Kanlho (Gannan, in Chinese) prefecture in Gansu province.
A day earlier, a Tibetan monk, Lobsang Tsultrim, self-immolated at the restive Kirti monastery in Ngaba.
In total, 47 Tibetans have now self-immolated since the current wave of fiery protests began in February 2009, with nearly all of the protests taking place in Tibetan-populated provinces in western China.
Tibetan groups say the wave of self-immolation protests will continue until the underlying problems in the Tibetan-populated areas are addressed by the Chinese authorities.
Chinese authorities however have labeled the self-immolators as terrorists, outcasts, criminals, and mentally ill people and have blamed the Dalai Lama for encouraging the burnings.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.