Kelsang Wangchuk

Kelsang Wangchuk, a 17-year old monk from Kirti monastery who self-immolated on October 3, in an undated photo.

A 17-year old monk from Kirti monastery immolated himself in Ngaba county town at approximately 2:00 pm local time today, according to Tibetans in exile in contact with Tibetans in the area. The monk, Kelsang Wangchuk, carried a photo of the Dalai Lama and was shouting slogans against the Chinese government when he set fire to himself along the main street in Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province. Full details of the incident have yet to emerge, but some exiled sources say that he was immediately surrounded by security personnel, who extinguished the fire and beat Kelsang Wangchuk before taking him away. Kelsang’s current wellbeing and whereabouts are unknown.

According to the same Tibetan sources, people in the street and surrounding area began to gather at the scene and prepared to protest, but the crowd was quickly dispersed by security personnel. Shortly after the immolation, additional security forces were deployed in Ngaba county town and at Kirti monastery, increasing an already tense security atmosphere in an area known for its outspoken expression of the Tibetan identity and frequent peaceful protests.

According to monks from the re-established Kirti monastery in exile in Dharamsala, India, pamphlets were distributed and posted around Kirti monastery and the market place in Ngaba county town a few days ago, stating that if the current security crackdown in the area were to continue, “many more people were prepared to give up their lives” in protest.

Kelsang Wangchuk, who is from Tsaru’ma village, Chujee’ma township in Ngaba county, is the third monk from Kirti monastery to set fire to himself in the past week. On September 26 Lobsang Kelsang and Lobsang Kunchok, both believed to be approximately 18-years old, set fire to themselves while shouting “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” in a protest also held in Ngaba county town. After extinguishing the flames, police took the two young monks into custody. Their current whereabouts and wellbeing remain unknown. (ICT report, Two more Tibetan monks from Kirti monastery set themselves on fire calling for religious freedom). According to exile Tibetan sources, one of the monks is related to Phuntsog, the 20-year old Kirti monk who died after setting fire to himself earlier this year, leading to the current crackdown in the area. (ICT report, Monk immolates himself; major protests at Tibetan monastery violently suppressed).

On February 27, 2009, a Kirti monk in his mid-twenties named Tapey set himself on fire in protest after local authorities told monks at Kirti monastery that they were not allowed to observe Monlam, a traditional prayer festival that is held after Tibetan New Year (Losar). According to several sources from the area, police shot Tapey before they extinguished the flames and took him into custody. His whereabouts and current condition remain unknown. (ICT report, Monk in Tibet sets himself on fire; shot by police during protest).

In nearby Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, a 29-year old monk named Tsewang Norbu died on August 15 after drinking petrol and setting fire to himself while calling for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Tsewang Norbu was a monk at Nyitso monastery in Tawu (Chinese: Daofu) in Kardze, an important historic center of Tibetan religious culture that was surrounded by military troops following Tsewang Norbu’s protest. (ICT report, Troops surround monastery as Tibetan monk dies after setting himself on fire and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet).