A young Tibetan nun from the embattled Tibetan area of Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) set fire to herself in a protest held early afternoon Monday (October 17), according to exiled Tibetan sources in contact with Tibetans in the area.

Tenzin Wangmo, a 20 year-old Tibetan nun from Mame Dechen Chokorling nunnery (also known as Mame nunnery) in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province (Tibetan region of Amdo), died after self-immolating at the Sumdo bridge, located below Mame nunnery, approximately three kilometers outside of Ngaba county town. According to the same sources, Tenzin Wangmo called for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet and for religious freedom, during a protest that lasted approximately 10 minutes. Tenzin Wangmo’s body was taken back to the nunnery before police arrived, whereupon the authorities demanded that her body be turned over or buried the same day, according to the same exile sources. The nuns of Mame nunnery refused, after which soldiers and police cordoned off the nunnery and surrounding villages. Details are still emerging, however, according to the same exile sources, Tenzin Wangmo’s body was cremated on the evening of October 17, by order of the authorities.

Tenzin Wangmo is the tenth Tibetan to self-immolate since February 27, 2009. The other nine have been monks, or former monks, seven of whom are from Kirti monastery and staged protests in Ngaba county town. Tenzin Wangmo is the fifth demonstrator known to have died after self-immolating (ICT report, Self-immolations continue in Tibet; 8th young Tibetan man sets fire to himself in Ngaba – 16 October 2011).

Tenzin Wangmo is from Chakorma in Ngaba county. Mame nunnery belongs to the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. With over 350 nuns, it is the largest nunnery in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province.

Tibetans demonstrate solidarity despite threats from authorities

According to exile Tibetan sources, on October 19 a large number of Tibetans from the Ngaba area gathered in the streets of Ngaba county town, wearing Tibetan dress, reciting prayers, and fasting in solidarity amidst the ongoing crackdown. The Tibetans gathered twice attempted to organize a protest, but police and soldiers brandishing firearms dispersed the crowds both times. Tibetans in nearby villages also gathered in Tibetan dress to recite prayers and fast, according to the same sources.

A large number of Tibetans visited Kirti monastery and other local monasteries in Ngaba, where they held religious activities, including circumambulation, performed prostrations, burned incense, lite butter lamps, and hung Buddhist flags.

Tibetan shops and restaurants in Ngaba, which closed on October 8 in solidarity and in mourning over the recent self-immolations of Kirti monks or former monks, remained closed as of October 16.

The displays of solidarity among Tibetans comes despite Tibetans in Ngaba recently being required to attend meetings held in every township in the area where government officials informed them that monks were not allowed to hold prayer services for those who recently died while holding “anti-government” protests. The officials indicated that local community leaders and family members would be held responsible if these instructions were not followed, according to exile Tibetan sources. According to at least one Tibetan in the area, the number of security personnel, including military vehicles and police vans patrolling Ngaba county town, and security checkpoints in the area, have increased over the last several days.

While no recent protests in the area have been reported, security has been significantly increased in the town of Labrang in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu province (Tibetan area of Amdo), where an increased number of military trucks, police cars, and security personnel patrolling the streets have been seen, according to a Tibetan in exile in contact with Tibetans in the area. In addition, according to the same source, an local officials made an “unusual” visit to the Democratic Management Committee at Labrang Tashikhyil monastery, one of the largest and most important monasteries in Tibet. No further details, however, are currently known. Labrang Tashikhyil was also the site of a recent high profile visit by Gyaltsen Norbu, who Chinese officials claim as the eleventh Panchen Lama (ICT report, Chinese government imposes visit of its Panchen Lama on Tibetans: Troops surround Labrang Tashikhyil Monastery – 10 August 2011).

Kirti monks detained

Authorities recently detained two monks from Kirti monastery, according to exile Tibetan sources. Jigme Choepel, from Soruma village, Choeje township, Ngaba county, was detained by police on October 15. Soon after, on the night of October 17, Phuntsog, age 28, from Naktsangma village, Cha township, Ngaba county, was detained from his room at Kirti monastery by police who beat him as he was taken away. Phuntsog’s room was also searched, according to the same sources. It is currently unknown why the monks were detained, as well as their current whereabouts, according to exile sources. The same sources reported that several lay people were also detained on October 15, following the immolation protest by Norbu Damdrul, however their names and details are currently unknown.

Norbu Damdrul taken out of Ngaba

Norbu Damdrul, who set fire to himself in a protest on October 15 along the main street in Ngaba county town, has been taken out of Ngaba county, according to Tibetan exile sources. Damdrul, a former monk at Kirti monastery, was seen being driven away by authorities in the opposite direction of the local hospital, according to at least one source. His current whereabouts and wellbeing remain unknown (ICT report, Self-immolations continue in Tibet; 8th young Tibetan man sets fire to himself in Ngaba – 16 October 2011).