Rigzin Phüncchog

† 17 March 2011, Ngaba

“The fact that Tibetan people are setting themselves on fire in this 21st century is to let the world know about their suffering, and to tell the world about the denial of basic human rights. If you have any empathy, stand up for the Tibetan people.”

Jamphel Yeshi (16 March 2012)

Phuntsog, a 20-year old Buddhist monk, immolated himself in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet in Kirty Monastery on 16 March 2011. With his act, he started the longest wave of political self-immolations in the World´s history.

A great number of self-immolations have been related to the Chinese occupation of Tibet that started in 1950s. In March 2008, Chinese security forces brutally suppressed massive street protests against religious and cultural oppression, attended mostly by young Tibetans. At least thirteen people were shot dead. On the third anniversary of this tragic event, 16 March 2011, Phuntsog, a 20-year old Buddhist monk from the large monastery of Kirty (province of Sichuan), immolated himself in protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He immolated himself during a street Buddhist demonstration in Ngaba town, near his monastery. According to eye-witness testimonies, he was calling for the return of Dalai Lama to Tibet. The burned young man was taken back to the monastery and later transported to a hospital where he died the following day. Like in many similar cases, other details are not known.

The response of Chinese authorities to Phuntsog’s self-immolation was fierce – the army occupied the whole area, cleared the monastery and deported monks to an unknown place. Then the police arrested several people from Kirti who were later sentenced to long-term imprisonments due to their alleged participation in Phuntsog’s death. Moreover, the Chinese authorities untruthfully accused them of taking Phuntsog out of the hospital and hiding him inside the monastery where he was supposed to die. The repressive actions led to further radicalization of Tibetan protests and to the (most probably) longest wave of political self-immolations in the World´s history. According to the Tibetan exile, ninety other people (78 men and 12 women, often Buddhist monks) decided for self-immolation from March 2011 until November 2012. There were several group protests, e.g. on 7 November 2012 three young monks from Sichuan, i.e. the same region where Phuntsog immolated himself, set themselves on fire on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party assembly.

The first self-immolations took place outside Tibet. However, on 27 May 2012 two Buddhist monks set themselves on fire in Lhasa in front of the Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet’s holiest shrines.

One especially hyped case of Tibetan self-immolation occurred outside China. On 16 March 2012, the first anniversary of Phuntsog’s death, a 27-year old Tibetan Jamphel Yeshi set himself on fire in Delhi, India. He self-immolated during Tibetan demonstration on the occasion of the Chinese president’s visit to India. The Chinese officials subsequently accused Dalai Lama of inciting the wave of Tibetan self-immolations but he denied all accusations. Although the Tibetan spiritual leader living in Indian exile acknowledged the courage of these Tibetans in his speech, he also emphasized that self-immolations lead to deeper oppression.

Bibliography: >>>

Self-Immolations in Tibet (Sebeupálení v Tibetu), http://www.savetibet.org/resource-center/maps-data-fact-sheets/self-immolation-fact-sheet (ověřeno 1. 12. 2012)

Full list of self-immolations in Tibet (Úplný seznam sebeupálení v Tibetu), http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/na/full-list-self-immolations-tibet (ověřeno 1. 12. 2012)