A young Tibetan man called Konpe set fire to himself on December 23 (2017) and died in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), close to the site of the first self-immolation in Tibet eight years ago. In a harrowing video circulating online, a woman can be heard calling out, “Gyalwa Tenzin Gyatso [the Dalai Lama], grace us with your compassionate gaze.”

Konpe, who was aged around 30, was taken away immediately by police. By the morning of December 24 he had died, according to two monks from Kirti monastery in exile in Dharamsala, India.

The two Kirti monks, Kanyag Tsering and Losang Yeshe, said that it was not known what Konpe had shouted as he was on fire, at around 6 pm on December 23. They also said that his father had been detained by the authorities in Barkham (Chinese: Ma’erkang), because officials said that tens of thousands of yuan had been spent on medical treatment for Konpe.

Konpe had joined Kirti monastery as a child and later disrobed and married. He was from the Chukle Gongma pastoral community in Cha village in Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province (in the Tibetan area of Amdo). One of his two brothers is a monk and he also had three sisters.

On December 24 and 25, all the restaurants and shops in Ngaba county town remained closed out of sympathy and solidarity with his family members, according to the Kirti monks. A witness to the incident told Radio Free Asia Tibetan Service that it had taken place on the road from Kirti monastery in Ngaba.[1] This road is now known as ‘Heroes’ or ‘Martyrs’ Road after a number of Tibetans set fire to themselves here, beginning with the Kirti monk Tapey on February 29, 2009.

Although the majority of the earlier self-immolations from 2009 – particularly following a monk called Phuntsog’s self-immolation in 2011 – were carried out by monks at Kirti in Ngaba, they soon spread across Tibet.

Konpe’s self-immolation follows the death last month of a popular Tibetan monk in his sixties called Tenga who set fire to himself in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), the eastern Tibetan area of Kham on November 26.

Konpe was the 152nd Tibetan to set himself on fire in Tibet since 2009, in one of the most sweeping and significant waves of self-immolation as political protest globally, and the sixth this year. Two Tibetans in exile in India also set fire to themselves in July (2017).[2]

[1] ‘Witnesses Report Self-Immolation in Ngaba County in Sichuan Province’, December 23, 2017, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/ngaba-immolation-12232017133325.html

[2] See International Campaign for Tibet factsheet at: https://savetibet.org/resources/fact-sheets/self-immolations-by-tibetans/