Dawa Tsering, a monk in his thirties from Kardze Monastery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prececture in Sichuan, set fire to himself on the morning of October 25, becoming the 11th Tibetan to have self-immolated since March 2009, and the tenth since March of this year.
Details from various exiled sources indicate that Dawa Tsering was still alive immediately after monks and other people attending a religious ritual at the monastery extinguished the flames, although his current condition and whereabouts are not clear.
One source indicated he was initially taken to hospital before monks then took him back to the monastery to prevent his arrest by police arriving at the hospital at around the same time; another source indicated he refused medical treatment and pleaded not to be taken to hospital. Both sources suggested however that Dawa Tsering was at the monastery in the care of other monks and laypeople, who were preventing Chinese police – stationed at the monastery in large numbers since the Tibet-wide protests of 2008 – from interrogating or detaining him.
Eye-witnesses report that Dawa Tsering was participating in a religious ceremony at the time of a Cham (monastic) Dance, attended by hundreds of local people inside the monastery when he set himself alight and shouted slogans calling for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. The atmosphere at the monastery in the immediate wake of the incident was said by sources to be extremely tense, with Chinese police deployed around and inside the monastery in an apparent stand-off with the monks and lay-people protecting Dawa Tsering.
Among the other cases of self-immolation in Tibet since March, several have included reports of police actually kicking and beating the individual after the flames had been extinguished, or of people being taken away by police in the opposite direction to the nearest hospital. However, attempts to protect individuals from possible abuse or beatings by police can also have serious consequences for those involved. Three monks associated with Phuntsog, the young Kirti monk who self-immolated in March 2011, were eventually sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years on charges relating to homicide, which appear to be linked to attempts to protect Phuntsog in the aftermath of his self-immolation. (ICT report: “Monks imprisoned for 10-13 years following self-immolation by Kirti monk,” August 31, 2011.) Reports in the official media indicated that the Chinese authorities regarded the three monks as “accomplices” in Phuntsog’s death, who had conspired to deny him treatment.
In February 2009, the first of the 11 Tibetans to self-immolate – Tapey, a monk from Kirti Monastery also in eastern Tibet – was shot several times by police even while he was still engulfed in flames, according to eye-witness accounts. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, acknowledged Tapey’s self-immolation but denied police had shot him. Tapey’s current condition and whereabouts are not known. (ICT report: “New image of monk who set himself on fire: concerns for his welfare,” August 17, 2009.)
The Torgyak Ritual that Dawa Tsering was performing when he set himself alight is an annual occasion at the monastery attended by hundreds of people in the local community, and includes ritualized dances performed by monks in elaborate costumes making offerings of food as a means of reducing obstacles in the coming year. The precise circumstances of Dawa Tsering’s self-immolation are not known; however, part of the Torgyak Ritual includes burning the food offerings, suggesting that the means to self-immolate may have been available to him.