A new image of Tapey who self-immolated in February 2009.

There are continued concerns about the welfare and whereabouts of a young monk who set himself on fire in February 2009 as a form of protest after prayer ceremonies at his monastery were canceled. A disturbing new photograph of the incident, depicting Tapey standing in the middle of a road apparently motionless with flames around his body, has been received from Tibet and can be viewed here.

Tapey, in his mid-twenties, was fired upon by security personnel after he set himself on fire in the market area of Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) in Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Amdo). He had left his monastery, Kirti, to stage the protest after monks were told by local authorities that they were not allowed to observe Monlam, a traditional prayer festival that is held after the Tibetan New Year (Losar). After he was shot and had fallen to the ground, he was surrounded by police and taken to hospital. (ICT report, Monk in Tibet sets himself on fire; shot by police during protest) China’s official media reported the incident, but denied reports that police had opened fire on Tapey.

There were indications that Tapey would have a leg and an arm amputated, although according to sources in the area, this did not happen. But sources in contact with Tibetan exiles say that his current whereabouts are unknown and that he has not been able to return to his family.

Despite the order banning prayers at Kirti in February 2009, hundreds of Kirti monks still gathered outside Kirti’s prayer hall to go ahead with the prayers. They later dispersed on the advice of local officials, but Tapey left the monastery and walked towards county town. He had already doused himself with fuel by the time he reached the crossroads in Ngaba town. He then set himself on fire and raised a home-made Tibetan flag that had at its center a photograph of the Dalai Lama. When Tapey began to shout slogans (no details are yet known of what he said), People’s Armed Police (PAP) personnel stationed nearby opened fire, and Tapey fell to the ground. Reports indicate that the flames were extinguished by the PAP after Tapey was shot and he was immediately taken away by police.

The crackdown in Ngaba has been particularly severe following a major protest involving monks from Kirti monastery in March last year. At least 10 Tibetans – including 16-year-old schoolgirl Lhundup Tso – were shot dead last year after police opened fire on unarmed Tibetans who joined the spontaneous protest after a morning prayer session at Kirti monastery on March 16, 2008.