A 18-year-old nomad today burned himself at Dolma Square in front of Rongwo Monastery in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) in Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province.
Kalsang Jinpa, a former monk of the Rongwo Monastery passed away at the scene of his self-immolation protest. He was reported to have raised a white banner with slogans that called for Dalai Lama's return and rights of all Tibetan people before setting himself ablaze.
Thousands have gathered at the Dolma Square to show solidarity and to pray for Kalsang Jinpa. Sources say the situation is tense in the region with crowds raising slogans for the return of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet.
Self-Immolations in Rebkong
Six Tibetans have set themselves on fire across different Tibetan regions in the last two days in an apparent protest against China. Today's incidence is the fifth self-immolation in Rebkong since March. Yesterday, Tamding Tso, a 23-year-old Tibetan woman from Rebkong died after setting herself on fire. On Sunday, Dorjee Lhundup, a 25-year old artist from the same area self-immolated and died at the scene of the protest. Jamyang Palden, 34, a monk from Rongwo Monastery, was the first to set himself on fire on March 14, followed by Sonam Dhargyal, 44, on March 17, in Rebkong. All five self-immolators from Rebkong have called for return of the Dalai Lama back to Tibet, an end to repression on Tibetans and freedom for Tibet.
Protests in Rebkong
Rebkong has witnessed numerous protests in the past. On April 17, 2008, Rebkong monks demanded the release of monks detained during the wave of protests in March 2008. Many were detained following the peaceful protest including 43years old Shedrup who later committed suicide upon his release. In 2010, several hundred Tibetan students in Rebkong protested China’s new measures to increase Chinese-language medium teaching and undermine Tibetan language study. The students have staged protests outside government offices calling for equality of people and freedom of language. In April 2012, around 300 Tibetans marched to the streets with banners to protest local Chinese authorities in Rebkong, calling an end to police brutality in the region. Confrontation between local Tibetans and police sparked the mass protest.
Rebkong is traditionally known for its high quality artisanship and scholarship and there are concerns of Rebkong transitioning from a place of cultural and religious significance to a tourist site.
Dolma Square & Self-Immolations
Dolma square, the main ground in front of the Rongwo monastery has been the center of the self-immolation protests in Rebkong since
Jamyang Palden first burned himself infront of the square in March 14, 2012. After Sonam Dhargey's self-immolation on March 17, local Tibetans had carried Sonam's body to Dolma Square where more than 8000 Tibetans gathered to pay their last respects and mark their protest against the Chinese government. Following Dorjee Lhundup's self-immolation on Sunday, Tibetans wrapped his body in traditional Tibetan scarves and carried his body to the Dolma Square where a large number of Tibetans including monks and nuns gathered to offer their prayers. Rongwo monastery is among the most influential monastery for the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat sect which lies a few hours' drive from Qinghai's provincial capital, Xining.
Reactions to Self-Immolations
More than 69 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since February 2009 from Tibetan Autonomous Region and across Tibetan inhabited regions in China. The self-immolators have called for return of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet.
Last week, the U.S. Ambassador to China spoke about his trip last month to Tibetan monasteries and urged China to meet with Tibetan representatives to address self-immolations.
“We implore the Chinese to really meet with the representatives of the Tibetan people to address and re-examine some of the policies that have led to some of the restrictions and the violence and the self-immolations, and we are very concerned with the human rights condition here in China,” said Ambassador Locke.
Senior Chinese officials have rejected calls to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama or with authorities from the Tibetan exile government based in northern India.
China has also lashed out at U.N. criticism of Beijing's handling of unrest in Tibetan areas. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday that self-immolations have been instigated by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and are used to encourage people to engage in "separatist" activities. The Dalai Lama has said he is opposed to all violence and that self-immolations are caused by Chinese government’s hardline policies in the region.