06/12/2019

Tibetan mother dies of self-immolation protest in front of Chinese government office

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Mother of two, Sangyal Tso, died of self-immolation protest.
Mother of two, Sangyal Tso, died of self-immolation protest.

A Tibetan woman set herself on fire and died immediately after in Dokhog (Ch: Daogao) Township in Chone (Ch: Zhuoni) County, Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, in the Tibetan province of Amdo.

Sangyal Tso, 36, a mother of two, staged the self-immolation protest at around 4 am (local time) on 27 May, in front of a Chinese government office, which is located near Choephel Shing Tashi Choekorling Monastery in Dokhog Township.

Since the incident occurred early morning, no confirmed information is available on the exact slogans Sangyal Tso shouted during her self-immolation protest. She died instantly after the protest and the police took her body to Tsoe (Ch: Hezuo) city, capital of Kanlho Prefecture.

Police also arrived at the home of Sangyal Tso’s parents who were interrogated and restrictions were placed on their movement. Sources say moments before her self-immolation, Sangyal Tso had communicated on WeChat voice messaging service at about 3.30 am, following which her parents contacted friends and relatives to find out about their daughter’s whereabouts but in vain.

Khando (L) and Tsering Dhondup (R), daughter and son of Sangyal Tso
Khando (L) and Tsering Dhondup (R), daughter and son of Sangyal Tso

The government office near the monastery houses a police station, armed police, and party cadres including ‘work-team’ officials, and was instrumental in implementing repressive measures in the local area particularly since 2008. That Sangyal Tso chose to stage her protest in front of this government building is telling. Since 2008, monks and local Tibetans have appealed the authorities repeatedly to shift the government office elsewhere. Moreover, in 2008, armed police and cadres stationed at the office have violently crushed a major protest, increased restrictions and surveillance on the movement and activities of the monks and local Tibetans.

According to a source, the government office in front of which Sangyal Tso protested and died was not very large prior to 2008. But it has expanded in recent years particularly since the outbreak of a major protest during an annual prayer ceremony in 2008.
On the 11th day of the second lunar month in 2008, at an annual prayer ceremony at Choephel Shing Tashi Choekorling Monastery, monks joined by lay Tibetans staged a peaceful protest against government repression. Chinese paramilitary police quickly crushed the protest resulting in the arbitrary detention of about 400 monks and about 80 lay people. Many of them were released after being made to pay a fine of RMB 5,000 each.

Among them, two monks and three laymen were sentenced to prison. The monks, both sharing the same name, Tenzin Gyatso, were sentenced to 15 years and 13 years respectively. The older Tenzin Gyatso, who was 40 at the time of his arrest, is now serving his 15-year sentence at Dasha Ping (大沙坪) prison in Lanzhou city, capital of Gansu Province. The other Tenzin Gyatso, aged 20 at the time of arrest, is being imprisoned at Dingxi (定西 ) prison. The three laymen, identified as Lungsang Dorjee, Rinchen Tsering and Tenzin Tashi, were each sentenced to eight years in prison. Lungsang Dorjee from Meru Singpa Village was released from Baiyin (白银) prison in May-end 2014. Rinchen Tsering from Matsa Village was released from Dasha Ping prison in March 2014. It is not known why Lungsang Dorjee and Rinchen Tsering were released before expiration of their sentence. No information is available on the state of their health and well-being. Tenzin Tashi from Matsa Village is still serving sentence at Dingxi prison.

Dingxi prison is notorious for its brutal torture methods. In 2004, a Falun Dafa practitioner Bi Wenming was “beaten so badly that his spleen ruptured and he died on the scene” at Dingxi. Kunchok Tsephel Gopeytsang, a Tibetan writer, teacher and founder of Chomei website was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2009. He served four years of his sentence in Dingxi prison, before being transferred in August 2013 to another prison in Gansu where conditions are harsher and where there are serious concerns for his health, according to PEN International.

Prior to the protest staged during the annual prayer ceremony at Choephel Shing Tashi Choekorling Monastery in 2008, monks and local Tibetans had repeatedly petitioned the local authorities to move the Chinese government complex away from the monastery. The petitioning by Tibetans was ignored; instead the authorities tightened control by monitoring and interfering with monastic activities, and increasing restrictions during major festivals. Since 2008, monks and lay Tibetans in the area have observed the successive anniversaries of the protest on the day of the annual prayer ceremony by staging all kinds of peaceful protests. The annual prayer ceremony and purification ritual including sangsol (incense offering) observed on the 11th day of the second lunar calendar month is an ancient spiritual practice during which the monastery offers elaborate propitiation rituals for the deity residing in the sacred Amnye Pagoe Mountain.

Sangyal Tso was born and raised in Meru Sipa Village in Nyinpa (Ch: Niba) Township, Chone County. About eight years ago, she married Tadrin Wangyal, son of Lakho Tsang family from the same village. The couple has a son, Tsering Dhondup and daughter, Khando.