A Tibetan nun reportedly hanged herself to protest the partial demolition of the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, a world-famous religious town located in Serthar (Ch: Seda) County, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.
Rigzin Dolma, a student at the Institute, committed suicide on 20 July 2016, after Chinese authorities began dismantling the dwellings of Buddhist practitioners living at the Pema Khando Nuns’ Residence. The demolition is part of an order issued by the Chinese authorities in a seven-point document. it provides step-by-step guidance in dismantling the housing facilities of thousands of monastic and lay practitioners, reducing the number of residents to a government-set ceiling of 5000.
The destruction of homes at Larung Gar will be completed before 30 September 2017, according to the order issued by the provincial authorities. The order was developed at two conferences held in Beijing this year and presided over by Chinese president Xi Jinping. The Second National Work Conference on Religion was held in April and the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August.
Exiled Tibetan sources reported that Rigzin Dolma’s suicide note related extreme psychological distress throughout her studies at the Institute due to the unyielding intrusion of authorities. She requested that the small amount of money she had be donated to the Institute. TCHRD has not read the letter and is unable to contact local sources due to extreme restrictions on communication channels. Rigzin Dolma was born and raised in Derge (Ch: Dege) County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Rigzin Dolma’s suicide as a form of protest is not new among Tibetan monastics. Long before the series of self-immolation protests began in 2009, Tibetan monks and nuns have been driven to suicide, unable to bear the psychological pressure wrought by intrusive surveillance and persecution at the hands of the state officials. For instance, in 2007, Gyaltsen Tsepa Lobsang and Yangpa Locho, two senior monks at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse (Ch: Xigaze) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) took their own life after the state’s “patriotic education” officials forced them and other monks, to denounce the Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Yangpa Locho had played an important role in the recognition of the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. Following the protests against China’s appointment of Gyaltsen Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama, Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and its monks came under attack from the state authorities.
In a June 2009 report submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, TCHRD highlighted 16 known and two attempted monastic suicide cases documented since March 2008. One death was inflicted by self immolation. The factors contributing to the cited suicides are psychological trauma during various”patriotic education” campaigns, heavy handed crackdowns upon the monastic community in the aftermath of 2008 uprising and the continuing Anti-Dalai Lama campaign.
TCHRD is deeply concerned about the situation at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute and fears that Rigzin Dolma’s suicide is just the tip of an unfolding tragedy. Chinese authorities have made the demolition sites off-limits to prevent the release of images documenting their activities. Paramilitary forces are stationed at the site to intimidate and arrest protesters. There is no information on the status of the practitioners that have already lost their homes.