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Tibetan mother of five self-immolates to protest Chinese rule

May 9, 2016

Radio Free Asia, May 6, 2016 - A Tibetan mother of five has burned herself to death in southwestern China’s Sichuan province in a challenge to Beijing’s rule in the second such protest in a Tibetan area of China this year, a source in the region told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Sonam Tso, believed to have been in her 50s, self-immolated on March 23 near a monastery in Dzoege (in Chinese, Ruo’ergai) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

News of Tso’s protest was initially delayed in reaching outside contacts due to communications clampdowns imposed by Chinese authorities in the area, but her self-immolation followed by almost a month a similar burning in Sichuan’s Kardze prefecture that killed a young monk.

Tso, a native of Akyi township’s Tsa village, launched her protest outside Dzoege’s Sera monastery after telling her husband, who was walking with her, to go ahead, saying that she would join him later, RFA’s source said.

“A young monk heard her call out for the return of [exiled spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama and for freedom for Tibet as she burned,” he said.

Tso’s husband and the monk tried to put out the flames, and an elderly monk named Tsultrim, Tso’s uncle, then brought her inside the monastery.

“She was later put into a vehicle to be taken to a hospital, but she died before leaving the monastery,” the source said.

Speaking separately to RFA, a Tibetan source in exile confirmed the incident had occurred, citing contacts in the region.

Police detained Tso’s uncle for eight days for discussing the incident with other people and forced him to delete the photos he had taken of Tso’s protest, the source said, adding that her husband, Kalsang Gyaltsen, was called in for questioning three times.

“She leaves behind five children—two boys and three girls,” he said.

Tso’s protest brings to 145 the number of self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.

Most protests feature demands for Tibetan freedom and the return of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since an abortive national uprising in 1959.  A handful of self-immolation protests have been over local land or property disputes.

Reported by Sonam Topgyal for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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