Tenzin Gyatso’s self-immolation yesterday (May 20) followed an intense paramilitary buildup in Tawu (Chinese: Daofu), Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), Sichuan, apparently linked to the authorities’ efforts to prevent any celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s upcoming 80th birthday on July 6.
Since 2008, security forces in Tawu have responded harshly to peaceful expressions of dissent and gatherings of Tibetans for cultural and religious purposes. Two years ago, police in Tawu opened fire on Tibetans peacefully celebrating the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday, injuring at least ten people. Other Tibetans detained were tortured in custody.
A Tibetan in contact with sources in the area said: “It is believed that the tight security and oppressive atmosphere in the Tawu area in the last few days triggered Tenzin Gyatso’s self-immolation protest. Recently, the Chinese authorities deployed an intensified presence of heavily armed troops in the area, and carried out military drills to intimidate people. We have heard many people are being beaten and detained for no reason. Tenzin Gyatso witnessed this happening and was distressed about it. He set fire to himself right near to a local government building in Khangsar township where political education sessions were carried out.”
Another Tibetan source said that the intensified security was due to the authorities’ efforts to prevent any celebration of the Dalai Lama’s upcoming birthday – 80 is a significant age in Tibet, and people in Tawu have chosen to mark the birthday through peaceful celebrations before. The source said: “This is the reason for the deployment of troops and in particular, troop deployments to monasteries and nunneries in the area. Also, the prefectural government authorities ordered the local government to implement ‘patriotic education’ to local people in every township, and they established dozens of checkpoints including in Tawu county town.”
Tenzin Gyatso was born in Kheney village, Khangsar Township, Tawu, and was in his early thirties. He and his wife Sonam Drolma have four children. It is the 140th self-immolation in Tibet and the PRC since 2009. One of the first self-immolations in Tibet occurred in Tawu, when 29-year old monk Tsewang Norbu called for freedom for Tibet and for the Dalai Lama to return before setting himself on fire on August 15, 2011. Nun Palden Choetso self-immolated in Tawu three months later on November 3, 2011.
In 2013, two Tibetans were shot in the head and at least eight others seriously injured after police opened fire at unarmed Tibetans who had gathered for a picnic and to offer prayers at a sacred mountain in Nyitso, Tawu, (Chinese: Dawu/Daofu), Kardze on July 6. Two years before, in 2011, security personnel had been deployed at the same location as the shooting in Tawu to prevent peaceful celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and thousands of Tibetans were stopped from making offerings at a holy mountain during the early hours of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Even so, images emerged depicting plumes of incense smoke, burnt as an offering for the well being of the Dalai Lama, arising from houses on a hillside in the area on the birthday of the exiled religious leader that year.