Three photographs have emerged on the internet this morning showing a Tibetan monk on the ground engulfed in flames which a reliable source has told VOA is of an incidence that took place around 4pm local time on July 9, 2015 in the Tibetan town of Kyegudo, located today in the Chinese province of Qinghai. However further information on the individual, his condition and whereabouts, and his motive are not available at present due to the shutdown of telephone and internet services in the region.
Of the three photos, two show the monk in flames near what appears to be a marble pedestal for a flagpole with startled onlookers a few feet away. The third image, which appears to be taken a little later in the afternoon shows security personnel and vehicle forming a cordon.
Kyegudo saw a devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed thousands of people and destroyed much of the town, and has since then been simmering with discontent at the ensuing land grabs that took place that are widely believed to be the result of corrupt deals between developers and local authorities. Tibetans have been dispossesed of their prime house plots in town that they’ve owned and occupied for generations, and forced to relocate to areas on the outskirts of town with little to no other compensation.
In 2012, at the height of protests and petitioning by Tibetans in Kyegudo calling for justice, Dickyi Choezom, a mother of two carried out a self-immolation protest. She was taken away by Chinese security from the site of her protest and her condition is unknown to this day. At the time, the exile Tibetan Parliament announced that, “Dickyi Choezom set herself on fire during a public protest against Chinese government policies of forced eviction and land seizures in the region.”
There have been over 142 known self-immolation protests in Tibet and Tibetan areas since 2009, which have prompted the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations to urge China to address the situation and to cease policies and actions that exacerbate tensions in Tibet.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bipartisan resolution urging China to improve human rights in Tibet, and called for substantive dialogue without preconditions between Beijing and the Dalai Lama or his representatives, in order to secure a negotiated agreement for the Tibetan people.
Update July 10: The Tibetan monk who self-immolated on July 9 has been identified as 26-year-old Sonam Topgyal and the location of his protest is a public square named after the mythic and legendary Tibetan warrior king named Gesar, in the town of Kyegudo, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Sonam Topgyal is reported to have been taken away by security forces following his protest and his condition is unknown due to communication restrictions in the region. Sonam Topgyal is a native of Nangchen County in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and studied at Derge Monastery.