Monk Burns to Protest Monastery Intrusion

An undated photo of Damchoe Sangpo in Bodhgaya town in India's Bihar state.

A Tibetan monk burned himself to death on Friday after protesting Chinese security intrusions at his monastery in China’s western Qinghai province, adding to tensions in protest-hit Tibetan-populated areas, sources said.

Damchoe Sangpo, aged about 40 and a monk at the Bongtak monastery in Themchen county of the Tsonub (in Chinese, Haixi) prefecture, set himself ablaze at around 6:00 a.m. local time and died shortly afterward, an India-based senior Tibetan monk named Shingsa said, citing contacts in the region.

It was the 22nd confirmed self-immolation by Tibetans protesting Chinese policies and rule in Tibetan regions since a wave of the fiery protests began in February 2009. 

Three other self-immolations were reported in early February in a remote region of Sichuan province, but have never been confirmed due to communication problems stemming from the stepped-up crackdown by Chinese security forces.

Damchoe Sangpo, the monk who died in Friday’s protest, had objected to the cancelling by Chinese authorities of a traditional prayer festival at the monastery and to the presence of Chinese security forces, Shingsa told RFA in an interview.

“After the Tibetan New Year, which in Qinghai’s Amdo region coincides with the Chinese New Year, Chinese officials banned the [monastery’s] Monlam religious gathering and sent armed security forces there ,” Shingsa said.

“Damchoe objected to this, and told the Chinese officials that if they didn’t withdraw their troops from the monastery, the monks should not be held responsible for any incident that might follow,” he said.

“When monks came out of the temple after morning services, they saw Damchoe burning,” Shingsa said, adding, “He died on the spot.”

Chinese security measures had already been tightened at Bongtak following an earlier protest by a monk protesting mining in the area, a Tibetan exile parliament source was quoted as saying.

"Some years back, a Chinese company began digging in the area in search of silver deposits. A monk named Kalsang made a video protesting the excavation, for which he was detained and then sentenced to a year and a half in jail," the source said. 

"After that, the Chinese increased their military presence in the area," he said.

Communications cut

Tibetan-populated regions in China have been shaken by a series of self-immolations and protests recently, leading to a bloody crackdown by security forces and the arrest of scores, if not hundreds, of Tibetans.

Chinese authorities have virtually cut off communication lines amid the crackdown, and information flow has been severely restricted, according to sources who have traveled out of these places. 

Damchoe Sangpo was the youngest of 10 siblings, of whom all the others were girls, Shingsa said.

“His father’s name is Taklha. His mother passed away when he was very young.”

Damchoe Sangpo, who was described by Shingsa as a “highly responsible person,” was ordained as a monk in 1991 and went to India in 1994. 

“[Three years] later, he returned to Tibet and became the disciplinarian of the monastery. Before his death, he tutored the monks in religious texts.”

It is not clear whether the Chinese authorities or the monks are now in possession of Damchoe Sangpo’s body, Shingsa said.

“Because of the heavy troop presence at the monastery, no more phone calls can be made, and it appears that all of the lines have been cut,” he said.

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