Lobsang Gyatso

Lobsang Gyatso, a 19-year old monk from Kirti monastery in Ngaba, self-immolated on February 13, 2012.

A 19-year old Tibetan monk who excelled in his studies set fire to himself today (February 13) in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba). The self-immolation occurred on the eve of China’s presumed next leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington, DC, to meet President Obama. It is the 21st confirmed self-immolation in Tibet since February 2009.

Lobsang Gyatso, from Cha township in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Amdo), set fire to himself early this afternoon at the top of the main street of Ngaba county town, while shouting slogans of protest against the Chinese government. Lobsang Gyatso is a monk at Kirti monastery in Ngaba.

Kirti monks in exile and other Tibetan sources said that armed police and special forces were seen violently beating Lobsang Gyatso as they extinguished the flames. His current whereabouts and welfare is not known.

Lobsang Gyatso is the eldest of four children, with three brothers and one sister. Kirti monks in exile in Dharamsala, India, said: “He is one of the best and brightest students in his class, and has given class presentations many times.” Another Tibetan source in exile said that he frequently participated in monastic debate.

According to the same sources, two Tibetans who sought to help Lobsang Gyatso were also severely beaten by police, with one being led away, apparently bleeding profusely from the head and one arm.

The Kirti monks in exile said today: “Armed police and special police deployed along the main street imposed a clampdown, with an even larger number of checkpoints stopping and searching local people moving around town, and stopped the public from approaching the site of the protest.”

Clandestine new footage from the region made available by the UK Guardian today reveals the scale of the lockdown in Ngaba. Reporter Jonathan Watts, who managed to travel into Ngaba despite the restrictions, confirmed that troops were armed with spiked clubs, weapons he described as “medieval” (Guardian, Tibetan acts of self-immolation rise amid the battle for hearts and minds).

The Chinese state media has confirmed the death of nun Tenzin Choedron after she self-immolated on February 11 (ICT report, Eighteen year old nun who self-immolated in Ngaba dies – 12 February 2012). Her body was not handed over to her family as requested; the authorities gave her family only a portion of the ashes. According to Kirti monks in exile, “The nunnery has been under blockade by armed police and special police since her protest took place, and people have not been allowed to enter or leave. Meanwhile a large number of government officials have entered the premises.”

The International Campaign for Tibet has urged the U.S. government to use the opportunity of Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington (February 14) to press for urgent change in Tibet, given the 21 self-immolations and the scale of the crackdown.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ICT’s Board of Directors wrote: “We believe that new Chinese leadership has the potential and power to chart a Tibet policy that is not only a departure from decades of Chinese misrule in Tibet, but also recognizes the value in direct engagement with the Tibetan people as legitimate stakeholders in their own future. This engagement is necessitated by, and grounded in, the scope of long-standing U.S. Tibet policy as laid down by successive Administrations and Congress.” (ICT press release, ICT calls for US leadership on Tibet during Xi Jinping visit; renewed Chinese-Tibetan dialogue and access to Tibet – 12 February 2012).