Images and footage that emerged almost immediately from Tibet shows thousands of Tibetans in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren), Malho (Chinese: Huangnan) Tibetan Auonomous Prefecture, Qinghai (Tibetan area of Amdo) gathering to mark the passing of Sonam Dargye, a Tibetan farmer who died after self-immolating near the center of Rongpo town on Saturday (March 17) (VOA, Thousands Mourn Tibetan Self-Immolator in China – 19 March 2012). A video released by VOA and shared by Tibetans on Facebook shows the body of Sonam Dargye still aflame in the middle of the street in Rongpo town, as hundreds of Tibetans gather around. Footage can be viewed at Voice of America’s Tibetan service here.
Sonam Dargye, a 44-year old father of three from the town of Rongpo, is the second Tibetan in the Rebkong area to set fire to himself. Jamyang Palden, a monk from Rongpo monastery in his thirties, self-immolated three days earlier (March 14) near Rongpo monastery, after which local Tibetans gathered at the scene offering prayers, and then protesting Chinese policies (ICT report, Tensions escalate in Qinghai: Rebkong self-immolation, student protest, monks commemorate March 10 – 14 March 2012).
There is now a heavy military presence in Rebkong following the self-immolations and those participating in prayer vigils or protests are especially at risk for detention and retaliation, often deadly, by security personnel.
40 monks from Bora monastery detained, released after late night raid following protest
The Chinese state media has made a rare acknowledgement of a peaceful protest by Bora monks on March 20. Over 100 monks from Bora monastery protested in front of the local government offices on Tuesday (March 20), leading to a police raid on the monastery on March 21 during which 40 monks were detained, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD, 21 March 2012).
The monks peacefully marched from their monastery to the local government offices in Bora township, Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) county, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu (Tibetan area of Amdo), while carrying Tibetan flags and photos of the Dalai Lama, as well as calling for religious freedom, human rights, and the protection of the Tibetan language, according to TCHRD.
The police raid on the monastery and subsequent detentions occurred in the early hours of the morning the next day. Though remaining under lockdown in the monastery, the remaining monks gathered to protest the detentions. Local officials eventually relented, releasing all 40 of the monks by late morning, early afternoon, according to the same sources. Local officials have subsequently demanded that the monks turn in the Tibetan flags and photos of the Dalai Lama used during the protest, and all those who participated in the protest sign a statement admitting their “mistake” and promising not to take part in such a protest again, according to TCHRD.
In an article on Wednesday (March 21), Xinhua, the state-run news agency, confirmed that a gathering of monks from Bora monastery took place. However, citing local officials, the incident was described as a “parade” of “more than 60 monks” taking place during the early afternoon of Tuesday (March 20) and lasted for approximately 10 minutes before the monks were “persuaded by local authorities to return to their monastery” (Xinhua, 21 March 2012).
On March 17, 2008, amidst the 2008 Tibetan uprising that began in Lhasa days earlier and was sweeping across the plateau, local herders on horseback descended on Bora, calling for Tibet’s independence and replaced the Chinese flag in the local primary school compound with the Tibetan flag. The event was captured on film by a Canadian TV crew and broadcast around the world, quickly becoming an iconic representation of the 2008 protests (ICT report, Tibet at a Turning Point, video can be viewed here).
Earlier this year one Tibetan was shot dead and a second detained in a police raid on a home in the neighboring township of Amchok.
Gurgo Tsering, who was in his mid-thirties, was shot dead and another Tibetan, Gonpo Kyab, was detained, apparently under suspicion of stealing from the site of an important new civil airport under construction in the area. The area has been tense for some time due to local people’s concern about the airport, and the death of Gurgo Tsering was followed by protests from local people and a buildup of military in the area (ICT report, Tibetans protest killing of Tibetan by police in Gansu – 12 January 2012)
In a separate incident in December, a Tibetan man in his twenties from Amchok was beaten to death by police on December 9 (2011) after he was stopped for driving a motorbike in the town of Labrang (Chinese: Xiahe) in Gansu (ICT report, Tibetan beaten to death by police in Labrang – 15 December 2011).