Sixth Self-Immolation Protest in One Tibetan County. A Tibetan man set himself on fire in an apparent protest against the persistent crackdown by Chinese security forces in the Tibetan county of Tawu, located in today’s Sichuan Province.
35 year old Tenzin Gyatso, a father of four, carried out his self-immolation protest outside a government meeting building in Khangsar town at approximately 8pm local time. Sources say that the police arrived within minutes and took him away in a badly burnt state.
His whereabouts and condition are unknown at present. In several past incidences when a protester was seized by security forces while still alive, their families were denied access to their loved ones and then informed the following day that the person had died and been cremated during the night. This practice by the Chinese authorities has been deeply hurtful to the families and communities of the protester as it both creates suspicion on the nature of the death, and deprives families from being able to carry out proper religious rites that are an important part of Tibetan cultural practice. Such harsh responses from the Chinese authorities in the aftermath of self-immolation protests have largely been viewed by Tibetans as having exacerbated existing distrust and discontent that Tibetans feel towards Chinese policies and actions, which they see as being the cause of Tibetan unrest and protest in the first place.
According to a VOA source, people in Tawu county had recently marked the Dalai Lama’s upcoming 80th birthday by organizing a peaceful awareness event on Tibetan identity and culture which was broken up a large number of armed police and paramilitary forces who carried out beatings and detentions without any apparent provocations or reasons given. The county had been in a tense state since the police action and numerous appeals made by local Tibetans for the release of the detained individuals had gone unanswered. Sources in the exile Tibetan community speculate that the heightened sense of injustice and frustration felt by Tibetans in the region may have been a catalyst for Tenzin Gyatso's self-immolation.
His wife Sonam Dolma, and his four children; Topten, Thupten, Tsering Tsomo, and Tsewang Gyatso, have not received any information of Gyato’s current condition to date.
Gyatso’s self-immolation brings the total number of known self-immolations in the same county to six since 2011. There have been over 140 such protests in Tibet and Tibetan areas since 2009, which have prompted both the United States and the United Nations to urge China to address.
The US State Department has stated that, “The United States wants to see these kinds of tragic acts of self-immolation come to an end. And we continue to both publicly and privately to urge the Chinese government at all levels to address policies in Tibet, in Tibetan areas, that have created tensions and that threaten the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged Beijing to address the long-standing Tibetan grievances that have led to an escalation in protests and the self-immolations.