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Self-Immolations in Tibet

Carrying the Tibetan National Flag, Ngawang Norpel, aged 22, and Tenzin Khedup, aged 24, self-immolated on June 20th, 2012 in Kyegudo, eastern Tibet calling for freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Carrying the Tibetan National Flag, Ngawang Norpel, aged 22, and Tenzin Khedup, aged 24, self-immolated on June 20th, 2012 in Kyegudo, eastern Tibet calling for freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

China’s harsh policies in Tibet, restricting freedoms and basic human rights, have intensified Tibetan grievances and exacerbated the resentment felt across Tibet. Thousands of Chinese troops are currently stationed in Tibet and monks and nuns have been subjected to harsh ‘patriotic re-education’ programmes. Tibetan students have been sentenced to harsh prison terms for advocating for the right to use their language, and the friends and families of Tibetans who have self-immolated have been detained and interrogated.

At least 140 self-immolation protests by Tibetans living under Chinese rule have taken place since 2009; over 85 in 2012, with 28 in the month of November 2012 alone. More than 100 of these protesters are known to have died. Those who have self-immolated called for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama.

Students for a Free Tibet condemns China's failed policies and ongoing crackdown in Tibet that are directly responsible for this wave of self-immolation protests. We urgently call on world governments to establish a multi-lateral forum for Tibet and begin to formulate new diplomatic strategies to address the crisis in Tibet. Learn about ways you can Take Action and Stand Up for Tibet.

Read a comprehensive report on the self-immolations and other acts of defiance and protest in Tibet since 2009 by International Tibet Network.

CBC & ABC Report: Tibet self-immolation protests against China on rise

Last Words of 19 Tibetans who Committed Self-ImmolationsTestimonial

Gudup, a 43-year-old Tibetan writer, self-immolated on October 4, 2012 in Biru County, Tibet. He left his last words in an update to his QQ account, a popular Chinese social networking site. Below is an excerpt:

"His Holiness Dalai Lama advocates for a non-violent middle-way policy for the right to Tibetan autonomy. Six million Tibetans have been following His Holiness’ teaching. But the CCP shows no support. Instead, they arrested and tortured those who demand Tibetan's rights. They defame Dalai Lama and when anyone does not recognize Tibet as part of China, they will disappear or be assassinated. They don't care about Tibetans and in order to let the world know about the real situation in Tibet, we have to radicalize our peaceful action, voice out Tibetan independence by lighting up our bodies".

Songye Tsering , a 24-year-old herdswoman, self-immolated outside the local government in Zeku County, Qinghai Province on November 17, 2012:

There is no freedom in Tibet, His Holiness Dalai Lama is forbidden to return home. Panchen Lama [the second highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama] is in prison. Numerous Tibetan heroes have made the sacrifice of self-immolation. I don't want to live anymore, there is no meaning in living… We are the son of Snow Lion, the offspring of red face Tibetans. Please remember the dignity of Snow mountain.

Read more



In November alone, a staggering 28 Tibetans set themselves on fire. Most of these individuals were in their late teens and early 20s and in the prime of their youth, with the youngest, a nun named Sangay Dolma, just 17 year old.

Sangay Dolma died after she self-immolated on November 25th in Tsekhog County, the seat of the Chinese government's local prefecture office near Rebkong (Ch: Tongren, Qinghai) in eastern Tibet. She had left a note celebrating the return of the Dalai Lama along with a photograph on which she had written:

"For the benefit for the people of the land of snow, beloved sons and daughters of the land of snow, do not forget you are brave Tibetans of the land of snow."

Below is the translated note of Sangay Dolma, courtesy of dolma

"He has returned."
Look up, fellow Tibetans,
look at the blue twilight above,
Like a heavenly tent of white mountain,
My lama has returned.

Look up, fellow Tibetans,
look at the summit of the snow mountains,
The white snow lion has returned,
My snow lion has returned.

Look up, fellow Tibetans,
look at the lush dense forest also.
At the beauty of turquoise grassland.
My tiger has returned.

Look up, Tibetans,
look at the snow mountains.
The snowland’s era has begun.
And Tibet is free and independent.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama,
when he lived far away,
he travelled around the world,
praying for the end of suffering of the red faced* Tibetans,
and released us from darkness,

At a time when Panchen Lama
is in prison,
He looks out from his prison cell,
prays for “the dawn of peace and happiness
in my land of snow."

*Red faced – used by Tibetans in Tibet to distinguish themselves from Chinese settlers.

Tibetan self-immolations dramatically escalate on eve of China's leadership handover

In the weeks leading up to China's leadership transition, an unprecedented seven Tibetans set fire to themselves, four in just two days. On October 25, two young cousins shouted slogans and self-immolated in their village north of Lhasa, in Nagchu county Central Tibet (China: TAR). Tsepo (20) died at the scene, but the whereabouts and wellbeing of Tenzin (25) is unclear. The following day, October 26, nomad and farmer Lhamo Tseten (24) walked out of a restaurant in Achok Township, Sangchu county, Amdo, eastern Tibet (Ch: Qinghai), where he had been eating lunch with friends, lit himself on fire and died. That same evening another nomad, Tsewang Kyab (early 20s), set light to himself and died in a nearby village. These events were preceded by three further self-immolations in Sangchu county, Amdo; Lhamo Kyab (27) near Bora monastery on October 20, Dhondup (60s) outside Labrang monastery on October 22 and Dorjee Rinchen (late 50s) on October 23, also in Labrang. All three men died.

Pictured below is Dorjee Rinchen, a 57-year-old Tibetan man who self-immolated in front of the People's Liberation Army Camp in Sangchu, Amdo in eastern Tibet on October 23, 2012.

dorjee rinchen 1

Dorjee Rinchen, 57, self-immolated October 23, 2012 in Labrang, Sayue, Amdo (Ch: Gansu). He died at the scene.

dorjee rinchen 5

Dorjee Rinchen self-immolated in front of the People's Liberation Army camp in Sangchu, Amdo in eastern Tibet.

dorjee rinchen 2

Dorjee Rinchen was the appointed local Tibetan leader and highly respected in his community. He is survived by his wife, son, daughter and mother.

dorjee rinchen 3

Local Tibetans safeguard Dorjee Rinchen's body after the self-immolation from the Chinese security forces. Photo courtesy:


Gudrub self-immolator

On October 5, Tibetan writer Gudrub set himself on fire in protest of Chinese rule. Below is the English translation of a message he wrote in March in an article titled, "The Sound of a Victorious Drum Beaten by Lives":

The people of the Land of Snow (a traditional term for Tibet) share a common goal of bringing His Holiness the Dalai Lama back to an independent Tibet. But when His Holiness opted for autonomy for Tibet through nonviolent struggle, the six million Tibetans accepted his wishes. However, the Chinese government has not supported his proposal. Moreover, Tibetans who are concerned about the welfare of the people are subjected to arbitrary arrests and beatings. Tibetans who refuse to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama or accept China’s rule on Tibet are secretly killed or made to disappear.

Since China is uninterested in the well being of the Tibetan people, we are sharpening our nonviolent movement. We are declaring the reality of Tibet by burning our own bodies to call for freedom of Tibet. Higher beings, Please see Tibet. Mother earth, Extend compassion to Tibet. Just world, Uphold the truth. The pure land of snow is now tainted with red blood, where military crackdowns are ceaseless. We as sons and daughters of the Land of Snow will win the battle. We will win the battle through truth, by shooting the arrows of our lives, by using the bow of our mind.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Land of Snow, please unite together and prioritize the well being of all Tibetans by putting aside personal issues. We can only enjoy equality and freedom then.

By Gudrub from Driru.
March 14, 2012.


Chinese security officials have locked Tibet off from the world, especially in the areas where the self-immolations are occurring. Tibetans face lengthy jail sentences and torture for sharing information about the self-immolations and growing protests.

In spite of the risks, rare video footage and images of self-immolations and recent protests have been smuggled out. Foreign journalists are banned from Tibet but a few have snuck in, revealing a nation under extreme security clampdown.

Please note: these videos include disturbing images of people on fire

Video 1: Rare Video of self-immolations by two Tibetan youth. Read more about these self-Immolations.

Video 2: Rare footage of Tibetan nun who self-immolated smuggled from inside Tibet.

Video 3: Rare photos of China's crackdown emerge from scene of shooting. Read more here.

Video 4: Protest in Rebkong (eastern Tibet) following the self-immolation of Jamyang Palden

Video 5: Guardian's coverage from inside Ngaba (the heart of the protests) View more footage from the Guardian's Jonathan Watts here.

Video 6: BBC report on the self-immolations 'China lock-down seals off Tibetan unrest.' Read the original report here.


The individuals who have self-immolated in Tibet include monks, farmers, nuns, nomads, students, mothers and reincarnated lamas. Through their actions they have put a human face to the destructive policies that have pushed Tibetans to the brink. These policies must end for Tibetans to live in peace and freedom.

Forcing Tibetan Nomads off Their Land


Tamdin Thar was a nomad who self-immolated in front of a People's Armed Police base in Chentsa, Malho in Amdo. Tamdin wrote a message saying his protest was an "offering of light" and he hoped for "Tibet to be ruled by Tibetans".

A majority of the self-immolators have come from nomadic communities, whose lifestyle the Chinese government has vowed to eradicate within the decade. Following China’s invasion and occupation, nom ads were classified as 'uncivilized' and their lifestyle threatened by China's agricultural and collectivisation policies. Although China missed its 2000 deadline to end nomadic life, efforts to force Tibetans into ghetto-style housing blocks have intensified since the launch of China's 'Western Development Plan'. In January 2011, officials said 1.43 million farmers and herders had new homes. Land, seized under false claims of 'environmental protection' in the age of climate change, is cleared largely to make way for dams and mining operations. For thousands of years, Tibetan nomads lived sustainably on the grasslands; now China's policy of 'converting rangelands to pastures' is leading to overgrazing in fenced-in areas and exacerbating desertification. Coercive settlement is causing economic and social problems.

Learn more about the plight of Tibetan nomads.

16GologLamaSopaSonamWangyalcopy.JPGReligious Repression

Lama Soepa recorded an audio message urging Tibetan to “unite and work together for a strong and prosperous Tibetan nation” before self-immolation.

16 of the self-immolators were monks – or former monks – at Kirti monastery in Ngaba County, eastern Tibet. Since China's occupation, Tibetan Buddhism has been under attack in an attempt to undermine Tibetans’ core belief system and sever loyalty to the Dalai Lama. An estimated 6,000 monasteries were destroyed and today the number of monks and nuns are vastly reduced, religious institutions tightly controlled and 'patriotic re-education' campaigns regularly carried out. In April 2011 over 300 monks were removed from Kirti Monastery in eastern Tibet following protests. In 1995 six-year old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama's choice of 11th Panchen Lama, disappeared and remains missing, and in 1999 the 17th Karmapa felt compelled to flee Tibet. China now insists that permission to reincarnate must be given by the government. Read more about religious repression in Tibet.

17LobsangJamyangcopy.JPGAssimilation of Tibetan Language

Lobsang Jamyang, age 22, was harassed by Chinese officials for leading the Tibetan Mother Language' program to promote Tibetan language

Since 2008 China has intensified efforts to marginalize the Tibetan language in favour of Chinese. In October 2010 over 10,000 Tibetan students and teachers protested against proposed education reforms by Qinghai Province, which aimed to change the primary language of instruction from Tibetan to Chinese. Street signs are in Chinese, official documents generally only available in Chinese and letters addressed in Tibetan are not delivered. In spite of China's efforts, a resurgence of the Tibetan language as an expression of identity is underway in Tibet.

Read more about China’s failed policies in Tibet

SFT’s Press Statements on the Self-immolations:

More Analysis of the Self-Immolation:

  1. Our Nation: News and Analysis on the State of Tibet, Episode 4
  2. Our Nation: News and Analysis on the State of Tibet, Episode 1
  3. Aljazeera interview with Tibetan PM Lobsang Sangay and SFT's Tendor: How long can Tibet burn?