Norbu Damdrul

Norbu Damdrul, a 19-year old former monk at Kirti monastery in Ngaba, who set fire to himself in protest on October 15, 2011.

A former Kirti monk set fire to himself in a protest on the main street in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) county town just before noon on October 15, according to exiled Tibetan sources. Norbu Damdrul, a 19-year old former monk at Kirti monastery in Ngaba, shouted “We need freedom and independence for Tibet,” and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet as his body was burning, according to the same sources.

Norbu’s body was badly burned, but according to the same sources he was still alive when police stationed on the street extinguished the flames and kicked Norbu before taking him away. According to at least one source in the area, the vehicle transporting Norbu Damdrul left the scene headed in the opposite direction of the local hospital, Norbu Damdrul’s current whereabouts and well-being are unknown, according to the same sources. A large crowd of Tibetans who had gathered at the scene was dispersed at gunpoint by security personnel, according to the same sources.

Norbu Damdrul is from Cheji township, Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, the Tibetan area of Amdo. His protest is the eighth self-immolation protest in Ngaba since 2009, seven of which have occurred since March 16, 2011. Norbu Damdrul is a former monk at Kirti monastery and has lived with his parents since June, 2010, according to the same sources. It is not known whether Norbu Damdrul chose to disrobe, or was expelled from the monastery by government authorities.

Norbu Damdrul is the ninth Tibetan monk or former Tibetan monk to self-immolate since a young Kirti monk named Tapey set fire to himself on February 27, 2009 after monks at the monastery were told by the local authorities that they were not allowed to observe Monlam, a traditional prayer festival that is held after Tibetan New Year (Losar). Tapey was shot by security personnel before they put out the flames (ICT report, Monk in Tibet sets himself on fire; shot by police during protest – 27 February 2009). Eight of the self-immolations have taken place in Ngaba, while one, by a Nyitso monastery monk named Tsewang Norbu, took place in neighboring Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province (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 – 16 August 2011).

The Ngaba area has been under military lockdown since major protests were held in the area following the spread of protests across the Tibetan plateau beginning in March, 2008. Earlier this year on March 16, a 20-year old monk named Phuntsog died after setting fire to himself in a protest held on the 3rd anniversary of a protest at Kirti in 2008 during which at least 10 Tibetans were shot dead. A stepped-up crackdown by authorities in the area ensued, in which hundreds of Kirti monks were detained, many were expelled, and several received prison sentences varying from 10 to 13 years (ICT reports, Monk immolates himself; major protests at Tibetan monastery violently suppressed – 16 March 2011, Protests, tensions escalate in Ngaba following self-immolation of monk: Kirti monastery under lockdown – 11 April 2011, New developments at Kirti monastery; crackdown shows no sign of easing – 28 June 2011, Monks imprisoned for 10-13 years following self-immolation by Kirti monk – 31 August 2011). During a vigil held by local Tibetans at the main gate of Kirti monastery on April 21 amidst the crackdown, two elderly Tibetans were beaten to death by security personnel (ICT report, Ngaba students protest crackdown, authorities respond; new information on deaths of Tibetans who tried to protect monks – 9 May 2011).

Of the nine self-immolation protests, four are known to have died. Most recently, two former monks died following their self-immolation protest on October 7, 2011. Choephel, age 19, and Kayang, age 18, clasped their hands together and set fire to themselves along the main street in Ngaba county town, according to exile Tibetan sources in contact with Tibetans in the area. According to at least one source, both may have been expelled from Kirti during the current crackdown (ICT reports, Two Tibetan teenagers set fire to themselves in latest protest in Ngaba; ICT calls for urgent actions by governments – 7 October 2011 and Kirti Rinpoche speaks of self-immolations; death of two former Tibetan monks after immolation – 11 October 2011).

There are unconfirmed reports that Kesang Wangchuk, who is in hospital after committing self-immolation protest on October 3, has been subjected to interrogation and torture (ICT report, 17 year old monk from Kirti monastery self-immolates in new protest – 3 October 2011).

Tibetans in Ngaba express solidarity with protests

According to the same exiled Tibetan sources, Tibetan shops and restaurants in Ngaba were closed from October 8 for several days, apparently in solidarity and in mourning over the recent self-immolations of Kirti monks or former monks. Many Tibetans went to make offerings at temples for the individuals who had lost their lives, particularly following the news of the death of two former Tibetan monks who set fire to themselves on October 7, Kayang and Choephel (ICT report, Kirti Rinpoche speaks of self-immolations; death of two former monks after immolation – 11 October 2011).

Kirti monks have been restricted from making traditional prayers for those who have died, and officials have announced that anyone who showed sympathy and support for the families of the Tibetans who immolated themselves would be detained. When a group of Kirti monks went to pray for one of the monks who had died, local people warned them that this would cause too much trouble for the family. According to the same exiled sources, the monks then sat down where they were and performed their dedicatory prayers and recitations.

The same exiled sources said that there had been rumours that over the last few days, goats with pro-Tibet messages tied around their necks have been set loose in Ngaba county town. According to these reports, police have resorted to taking the goats into custody.

ICT recommends the following:

  1. Governments should (a) demarche (reprimand) the government of the People’s Republic of China concerning the situation in Ngaba, (b) seek a full accounting of the forcible removal of monks from Kirti monastery, including an explanation of the pretext or conditions under which monks were removed and their current whereabouts, and (c) prohibit visa entry to relevant Chinese officials until such information is provided.
  2. Governments and United Nations bodies should call on China to abide by its obligations to international human rights conventions with respect to the religious freedoms and basic human rights of the monastic and lay communities in Ngaba.
  3. The Chinese government should suspend implementation of religious control regulations, review religious and security policies implemented since 2008 in Ngaba, and begin a transparent dialogue with the leaders of Tibetan Buddhist schools.
  4. The Chinese government should resume its dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama toward genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China.