China attempts to cover-up self-immolation in Tibet

[10 May 2016] The Chinese authorities have attempted to censor Tibet’s second self-immolation this year by restricting information from leaving the region and destroying photographic and video evidence of the protest. News of the self-immolation, which took place on 23 March in the Ngaba region, has only come to light in the last few days.

Sonam TsoThe self-immolation was undertaken by Sonam Tso (pictured right), a 50-year old mother of five, at Sera Monastery in Dzoge (Ch: Ruanggui) county, Ngaba (Ch: Aba) prefecture, Amdo (now incorporated into China’s Sichuan province). Sonam died of injuries the same day. 

Sonam had been on the monastery’s circumambulation circuit with her husband, Kelsang Gyatso, before she undertook her protest. Reports say she ushered her husband ahead of her, before she set fire to herself. During her protest, Sonam shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama. 

Kelsang quickly returned and, aided by several monks including a relative of Sonam’s named Tsultrim, quickly attempted to extinguish the fire. She was initially taken into the monastery but succumbed to her injuries before she could be transferred to hospital. 

On 24 March, the day after the self-immolation, Chinese authorities reportedly demanded her family hand over Sonam’s body. According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), the family said they had already cremated the body. Apparently Sonam was given a traditional Buddhist funeral the same day.

Both Kelsang Gyatso and Tsultrim have been detained and interrogated by the Chinese authorities. Their current whereabouts and condition are not clear.

According to TCHRD, the authorities destroyed all the information on Tsultrim’s phone that he had gathered about the self-immolation, including photos and video footage. In addition, communication lines in the region will have been monitored, censored and even cut by the authorities in an effort to stop information from spreading.

Sonam’s self-immolation is the second to take place in Tibet this year. On 29 February, 18-year old monk Kalsang Wangdu died after self-immolating in his home village of Shiwa, Kardze prefecture (also part of China’s Sichuan province).

A total of 144 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet since 2009. A further Tibetan self-immolated in Beijing in 2012, and seven others in exile. The majority of self-immolators are known to have used their protest to call for freedom for Tibet and/or the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Further reading: TCHRD | RFA | Phayul

Take Action  |  Background to self-immolations

Tibet Society, the world’s first Tibet support group, was founded in 1959. Funded by its members, it has been working for over 50 years to seek justice for Tibet through parliamentary lobbying, campaigns and actions. Help keep Tibet alive by joining Tibet Society today. Annual membership £24; Family £36; Life £500.


{loadmodule mod_ajo_button,Join Tibet Society}    {loadmodule mod_ajo_button,Donate}