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Another Case of Self-Immolation Stirs Controversy in Tibet

A Tibetan man in his sixties called Dondup set fire to himself today and reportedly died from his injuries.

Dhondup's self-immolation is the first at Labrang monastery in eastern Tibet, the second in 48 hours in Gansu province (new information below), and the third self-immolation to take place near a monastery in Gansu in the past 10 days.

Today's self-immolation raises the number of self-immolations by Tibetans to 57 since February 2009.

A Tibetan man called Dhondup set fire to himself this morning (October 22) at the side of a temple called Serkhang (meaning golden house or temple) in Labrang Tashikyil (Chinese: Xiahe) monastery in Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province (the Tibetan area of Amdo). Graphic images that reached Tibetans in exile depict his burning body near the pilgrimage circuit of the monastery, and one photograph shows a khatag (white blessing scarf) placed at the spot after his body was removed.

dorje rinchen immolation
Dorje Rinchen ablaze after he set fire to himself, October 23. A remarkable new set of images from Labrang today depict the self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen and its aftermath, showing the Tibetan farmer running down the street ablaze, and a buildup of troops in confrontation with local people trying to protect Dorje Rinchen. The self-immolation of Dorje Rinchen has been confirmed by the Chinese state media and is the second self-immolation at Labrang in eastern Tibet in two days.
Photo: International Campaign for Tibet

Labrang Tashikyil monastery is one of the great monasteries in the Gelugpa tradition and one of the most important centers of Tibetan religious culture in Tibet.

According to reports from exile Tibetans, Dhondup died after his self-immolation and troops took away his body. A Tibetan in exile from Labrang told ICT: "We heard that the flames surrounding the body were so intense. Troops arrived soon afterwards and put the remains in a large bag and took it away. Local monks then tried to hold prayers for Dhondup but police and monastic officials tried to prevent this happening."

Dhondup was from a farming and nomadic family from a village in Denme township in Sangchu (or Labrang, Chinese: Xiahe) county in Gannan. When he married he moved to Gyoegya township in Labrang, and the couple had an adopted son.

The self-immolation of Dhondup today follows the death of another Tibetan layman and father on Saturday (October 20), after he self-immolated near Bora monastery also in Labrang. Lhamo Kyab, who was in his late twenties, leaves a wife and two children, aged 10 and 7. According to Tibetans in exile, Lhamo Kyab was seen running along the road in flames, and calling for the Dalai Lama to come home to Tibet. The same sources said that police tried to put out the flames, and a local man took off his shirt and tried to fling it over Lhamo Kyab, but the blaze was too strong. There was some tension between security personnel on the scene and local Tibetans as Tibetans sought to take the body to Bora monastery. Tibetans succeeded in taking Lhamo Kyab's remains there and held prayers. Afterwards, monks from Bora went to Lhamo Kyab's home in Drognang lower village, Bora township, to pray, in accordance with Tibetan religious tradition, despite attempts by security personnel to stop them. Officials also warned Lhamo Kyab's family not to take people's offerings. According to one Tibetan exile source, more than 100 monks and lamas went to his home.

The deaths of Dhondup and Lhamo Kyab follow the self-immolation and death of the grandfather of a prominent young Tibetan reincarnate lama on October 13, near the Tsoe Gaden Choeling monastery in Kanlho, Gansu. Tamdin Dorje, who was in his early fifties, was from Drong che village in Khasag township in Kanlho. He was a father of three and the grandfather of the 10 year old boy who is recognised as one of the most important lamas in historic Labrang Tashikyil (Chinese: Xiahe) monastery, Gungthang Rinpoche. Tibetans gathered to pray for Tamdin Dorje despite an intense military buildup in the area following the self-immolation.

The Dalai Lama spoke about the self-immolations in a broadcast interview during his visit to Syracuse, New York, USA, earlier this month. The Dalai Lama asserted that the Tibetan self-immolations are non-violent expressions about Chinese policies in Tibet. He said that the ongoing struggle in Tibet is between the "power of truth and the power of the gun...in the short term the power of the gun is much stronger, and in the long term the power of truth is much stronger."

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