A Tibetan woman set herself on fire in what exiles from the region are calling a protest against Chinese policies and persistent security crackdowns in the region.
36 year old Sangye Tso, a mother of two, carried out her self-immolation around 4AM on May 27, in front of a Chinese security and re-education building located within the compound of Choparshing monastery.
The monastery, also known as Tashi Choekorling, is located in Choparshing in Chone County. This North Eastern Tibetan region falls within Kanlho Prefecture today, and is in the Chinese province of Gansu. VOA has learnt that security forces arrived within minutes of Sangye Tso’s action and took her away.
Exile Tibetan sources and Tibet support groups have been reporting conflicting versions of what has taken place in the aftermath of Sangye Tso being taken away with some reporting that she had died while in custody, and others that she was already dead when Chinese security took her away.
The immediate communications blackout in the region, a standard practice in all previous self-immolation protests in Tibet is making it hard to verify the exact whereabouts and condition of Sangye Tso.
A source in Australia who is a native of the region has told VOA that the last communication he received said that the small community of Choparshing was blanketed with security forces and that people were being told to stop all attempts to communicate with the outside world. The source told VOA that this far flung area of Tibet had been under intense pressure since 2008 when monks and ordinary Tibetans joined the protests that rocked hundreds of Tibetan areas across the country that were swiftly put down by Chinese forces, many resulting in police shootings and beatings of peaceful protesters, and the detention of tens of thousands of Tibetans.
In Choekorling Monastery, 400 monks were fined 5000 Yuan each for taking part in the protests, a staggering total of two million Yuans, an immense amount for a small monastery that may have left the monastery indebted to the state for a long time.
Three monks from the monastery were detained in 2008 and sentenced to 15 year prison terms for their part in the protests, and it is believed that several lay people are also still in detention. If the experience of other Tibetan political prisoners are any indications, the detained individuals may be suffering abuse and torture for long periods of time.
While there have been over 140 self-immolation protests that have taken place in Tibet since 2009, this is the first one in Chone county.
Exile Tibetans from the region tell VOA that the local monastery has been under intense pressure from security and re-education units, and that large buildings housing security and propaganda workers had been actually built inside the monastery’s walled compound.
Local people and the monastery’s monks had made repeated appeals to the local government to have the barracks and offices of armed security police relocated outside the monastery but to no avail.
Sources tell VOA that the actions of the Chinese authorities have deeply hurt and humiliated the local Tibetans who see them as attacks against Tibetan culture and religion, and that the sense of injustice and helplessness felt by many may have been what drove Sangye Tso to carry out her desperate protest.
This latest self-immolation in Tibet follows that of Tenzin Gyatso, a father of four, who also carried out his self-immolation protest outside a Chinese government building in Tawu County last week.
There have been over 140 self-immolation protests against China’s rule of Tibet which has been recognized by almost all rights organizations as being highly repressive. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has in recent years urged China to address the long-standing Tibetan grievances that have led to an escalation in protests and the self-immolations.