15/07/2020

Teenage monk dies of burning protest; fate of body unknown

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Kunchok Sonam, 18, died of  burning protest at Soktsang Village in Thangkor Township in Dzoege County.
Kunchok Sonam, 18, died of burning protest at Soktsang Village in Thangkor Township, Dzoege County.

A Tibetan monk, Kunchok Sonam, 18, died after setting himself on fire to protest China’s repressive policy in Dzoege (Ch: Ru’ergai) County in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, in the Tibetan province of Amdo.

According to information received by TCHRD, on the morning of 20 July, Kunchok Sonam, a monk at Tashi Thekchokling Monastery in Dzoege County set himself alight and died shortly. Sources say the young monk had just finished his morning prayers and was on his way out of the monastery when he burned himself up in protest at around 8.30 am.

Sources  quote eyewitness accounts as saying that some fellow monks saw Kunchok Sonam on fire with both his hands clasped in a praying gesture. No one could make out the slogans he were shouting due to the strong flames. As soon as he fell on the ground, monks went near him but he had already died with his hands still folded in a praying gesture. 

There are conflicting accounts on the whereabouts and fate of Kunchok Sonam’s body. It appears that monks and local Tibetans held a prayer ceremony for the deceased at Tashi Thekchokling Monastery on the day of self-immolation. But local police arrived at the monastery soon after news of self-immolation spread. Local police surrounded the monastery and pressured the monks to hand over the deceased’s body.  But the police failed to take custody of the body due to the presence of a large number of local Tibetans and monks at the monastery. However, the police returned soon after and again demanded the deceased’s body. To avoid getting it into the hands of Chinese police, the body was thrown into Machu (Yellow River). Yet another account claims that the body is being held in an undisclosed location to save it from the police.

Kunchok Sonam, son of Sonam Palden and Lenthuk, was born and brought up in Soktsang (Ch: Suosang) Village in Thangkor (Ch: Tangke) Township of Dzoege County.

Tashi Thekchokling Monastery where monk Kunchok Sonam staged a self-immolation protest and died.
Tashi Thekchokling Monastery where monk Kunchok Sonam staged a self-immolation protest and died.

With the latest incident in Dzoege, the total number of confirmed self-immolation protests inside Tibet has increased to 120, out of which 100 have died of burn injuries.