A farmer became the 30th Tibetan to self-immolate in protest over Chinese rule on Saturday as he set himself ablaze and died in northwestern Qinghai province, drawing several thousand Tibetans to his funeral.
Sonam Thargyal drank kerosene and poured the fuel over his cotton-padded body before setting himself alight, dying minutes later as his body was swiftly consumed by the flames, local Tibetan sources and an exile group with contacts in the region said. He was 44.
The self-immolation occurred early Saturday at the main road near the Gangri Hotel and Thume Cultural Center in Qinghai’s Rebkong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
This is the second self-immolation in three days in Rebkong, where Tibetans earlier this week also took to the streets to protest a possible change in the medium of instruction in schools from Tibetan to Chinese.
“The Tibetans who were at the scene attempted to put out the flames but death was very fast because of the kerosene inside and outside the body,” Dorjee Wangchuk, a Tibetan exile spokesman for the Rebkong community based in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, told RFA.
“He had wrapped cotton all around his body and fastened it with iron wire. So, those who tried to put out the fire had no chance to save him,” a local Tibetan source said.
As he burned, Thargyal, who was from the Shadrag nomadic area in Rebkong, shouted slogans for an end to Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas, for the return of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and for Tibetan language rights.
“Before he set himself on fire, he went to a Tibetan guest house owned by Shadrag nomadic community where he washed his body and prostrated before the portrait of the Dalai Lama,” Wangchuk said.
The Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said he was a farmer.
His body was taken to the Rongwo Gonchen Monastery where funeral prayers were held, attended by several thousand people, including monks, local Tibetan sources said.
Several hundred Chinese security forces were at the scene but pulled back after being outnumbered by the Tibetans. Senior monks kept the crowd under control, the sources said.
“Police and paramilitary forces did surround the monastery and tried to intervene but when the Tibetan crowd swelled, they withdrew,” one local source said.
The source claimed that more than 7,000 Tibetans were present at the funeral. The figure could not be independently confirmed.
Thargyal was the 30th Tibetan to have self-immolated since February 2009 amid tensions in Tibetan-populated provinces and in the Tibet Autonomous Region following a Chinese security clampdown and the detention of hundreds of monks since early last year.
The self-immolation came just a day after a 20-year-old monk set himself ablaze in Sichuan province’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture. He was beaten and taken away by Chinese security forces.
The wave of self-immolations prompted a call last week from well-known Tibetan blogger Woeser and senior Tibetan religious leader Arjia Rinpoche to end the fiery protests, saying that Tibetans opposed to Chinese rule should instead “stay alive to struggle and push forward” their goals.
Lobsang Sangay, the head of Tibet’s exile government in Dharamsala, said that while he strongly discouraged self-immolations, the “fault lies squarely with the hardline leaders in Beijing.”
He accused Beijing of attempting over the last half-century “to annihilate the Tibetan people and its culture.”
The Chinese government however blamed the Dalai Lama for the self-immolations, accusing the 76-year-old Buddhist leader and his followers of plotting to create “turmoil” in Tibetan-inhabited areas.
Reported by Lumbum Tash, Palden Gyal and Yangdon Demo for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.