Two former monks from the embattled Kirti monastery set fire to themselves today in Ngaba county town, according to exile Tibetans in contact with Tibetans in the area. There have been five self-immolations in Ngaba county town in less than two weeks, and seven since February, 2009 (ICT report, 17 year old Tibetan monk from Kirti monastery self-immolates in new protest).

The two Tibetan teenagers, Choephel, age 19, and Kayang, age 18, staged their protest this morning on the main street in Ngaba county town, Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Amdo), according to exile Tibetan sources. The two young men clasped their hands together and set fire to themselves before security personnel extinguished the flames and took the two to the county’s government-run hospital, according to the same sources. Their current whereabouts and well-being have not been confirmed, but according to at least one source, Choephel may have died shortly after the protest.

The Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, was quoted by Time as saying recently: “Monks take a vow that says they are not allowed to end their lives… But on the other hand, these actions are not for an individual, they are for a people.” (Time, Another Tibetan monks sets himself ablaze – and the Karmapa’s take on the fiery protests).

Kayang and Choephel were both former monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba, but have since disrobed, according to exile Tibetan sources. 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. In one major demonstration in Ngaba in 2008, at least 10 Tibetans were shot dead by security forces. According to the Tibetan exile sources, Kayang’s cousin, a Tibetan named Tashi, was one of the Tibetans killed in the Chinese government crackdown in Ngaba in 2008.

Dharamsala-based Tibetan researcher Zorgyi, who works for ICT, said, “This sort of committed decision (self-immolation) can only be made under such suffering and pain caused by the Chinese government’s restrictions and repression. Normally, these people would not have taken this sort of action. Therefore, through their decision to self-immolate, we can understand what sort of situation Tibetans in Tibet are in. Tibetans are deeply religious, and they are willing to pay the ultimate price for their religion and freedom.”

The Ngaba region has faced intense security pressure since protests occurred across the Tibetan plateau in 2008 and were quickly followed by a military crackdown by Chinese officials (ICT report, A Great Mountain Burned by Fire: China’s crackdown in Tibet). More recently, monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba have faced particularly harsh security measures following the self-immolation by a monk named Phuntsog, who died after setting fire to himself in a protest earlier this year on March 16 (ICT report, Monk immolates himself; major protests at Tibetan monastery violently suppressed). Protests by local Tibetans in the area have been violently put down, including one incident in which two elderly Tibetans were killed by paramilitary police on April 21 while they took part in a standing vigil at the gate of Kirti monastery by a group of laypeople – mainly in their sixties or older – in an effort to prevent monks from being taken away by security forces in a raid on the monastery (ICT report, Two elderly Tibetans killed as hundreds of monks detained from Kirti; crackdown deepens).

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.