New footage has emerged of a 22-year old Tibetan exploding in flames and being beaten by police as Tibetans converge upon the scene amidst tear-gas.
The footage provides dramatic visual documentation of a self-immolation on January 14 in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) which led to a protest, and police firing into the crowd. A number of Tibetans were injured, some severely, including a woman who was blinded and a man who sustained a severe injury to his neck from a metal prod used by police.
Losang Jamyang, the young man who set fire to himself, was a former monk who had become a leading member of a popular association for the promotion of Tibetan language in his village. A Tibetan who knew him well told ICT that he was a quiet, self-sufficient person who circumambulated his former monastery before he set fire to himself. On the audio of the footage, it is possible to hear a Tibetan murmuring the name of the Dalai Lama and of a protector deity of Kirti monastery as they witness the self-immolation.
The 45-second film clip was shot and sent into exile at great risk to those involved. It can be viewed below and here and shows the following:
- At the start of the film, you see the corner of a building on the left. Two doors further left (offscreen) is a building that belongs to Kirti monastery. In a toilet on the ground floor of this building, Losang Jamyang poured kerosene over his body, set himself on fire, and came out onto the road in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) town, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo).
- At second two of the footage, a white mark can be seen on the road, which is the remains of the fire extinguisher chemicals used by police to put out the flames as Losang Jamyang ran forward. At the time the footage begins, the flames have died down and armed police and special forces have closed in on him as Tibetans gather around.
- At around second three or four of the footage, armed riot police advancing from screen left turn around as if in confrontation as a sound like an explosion or gunshot is heard. Tibetan sources in exile confirm that the sound is tear-gas being fired and that the police are confronting a crowd of Tibetans (offscreen left) who gathered behind Losang Jamyang after he set himself on fire. Later, police open fire on the crowd, which is not seen in the film clip.
- At around second 10, flames leap up from Losang Jamyang, who is on the ground in the midst of Tibetan onlookers and the police, who are pushed back in the intensity of the blaze. It is not clear exactly how this happened, but it is likely that the fire had not been completely extinguished as police and people were moving in on him. Tibetan sources say that he was wearing a layman¹s chuba (Tibetan robe), possibly with an acrylic/fleece lining that would absorb a lot of petrol. The Tibetan who knows Losang Jamyang told ICT that he believed him to have drunk petrol as well as poured it over his body. Losang Jamyang stands up at the center of the flames and leaps around as observers scream and cry out.
- Before second 11, a number of police emerge in the shot from screen right; these are the armed police and special police forces who normally patrol Ngaba town carrying fire extinguishers and guns.
- Before second 17, a policeman uses a pushcart to knock the Losang Jamyang to the ground. As he falls, police on either side can be seen kicking him. They then extinguish the flames a second time.
- Before second 35, a Tibetan voice is audible, fervently praying “Gyalwang Tenzin Gyatso! Gyalchen Dorje Hwaltsal!” Gyalwang Tenzin Gyatso is the name of the Dalai Lama. Gyalchen Dorje Hwaltsal is a protector of Kirti monastery, and most of the households in the area near Kirti worship him. Otherwise, the voices and shouting are either mumbled too softly to be heard or cannot be heard clearly. According to reports from Kirti monks in exile, as he ran into the road on fire Losang Jamyang shouted “May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!” and “Freedom for Tibet!”
- Just after the footage comes to an abrupt end, local Tibetans, angered at what they had witnessed, gathered around and tried to prevent police from taking away Losang Jamyang. It is not clear whether he died immediately or some time later.
Kanyag Tsering and Lobsang Yeshe, two Kirti monks in exile in Dharamsala, told ICT at the time: “Unable to bear this sight [of Jamyang being beaten by police] local Tibetans on the scene stood up to the armed security personnel without regard for their own lives, and shouting that the body should be handed over to them, tried their best to block their path as they tried to take him away.”
Police responded by detaining and beating Tibetans, and then opened fire. One Tibetan woman was blinded, while a Tibetan man was apparently severely wounded in his neck, when it was punctured by the spike of a weapon. Other Tibetans were also injured although full details of their current situation and whereabouts are not known.
According to relatives in exile, after the self-immolation, police visited Losang Jamyang’s family and demanded payment for fire damage to police uniforms, which were described as ‘state property’. This seems consistent with the evidence in the footage that the fire blazed up again just as police were closing in on him.
Losang Jamyang was from Shewa village in the Andu area of Ngaba. He joined Andu monastery (of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, like Kirti) as a child, but later joined a primary school (Bontse school) in Ngaba county and completed his education there.
The Tibetan who knew him and who is now in exile told ICT: “When he was very small, he used to be quite self-sufficient and he would play for hours with a small thing, like just one blade of grass. After being a monk as a child, he went to school and learnt Tibetan and Chinese. His family are not well-off and they depended on him, so he continued as a layman, not a monk. I hadn’t seen him for some time but I heard that after 2008 [when protests swept across Tibet from March 10 onwards] he became more nationalistic, and inspired by Tibetan actions. He said that Tibetans couldn’t stay as they were, under these conditions.”
Last year, Losang Jamyang became a leading member of a popular association for the promotion of the Tibetan language in his village. The same Tibetan said: “He was involved in something called the Pure Land program. It was really wonderful, drawing so many students and encouraging competency in the pure Tibetan language. Even one of my close relatives who spoke only Chinese now speaks fluent Tibetan. Losang Jamyang helped to set it up and they also set up a competition to encourage people further.”
The Tibetan told ICT that on the day of his self-immolation, Losang Jamyang asked for a ride into town from a Tibetan neighbor. He asked the driver to stop at Andu monastery and he did a circumambulation (kora). The Tibetan said: “No one knew what he was going to do. He didn’t tell anyone. On the way he talked to the Tibetan who gave him a ride about his Tibetan language program, and said that people should be more united and put in more effort with it. When they reached Ngaba he told the driver that he was going to have some vegetarian food, and then he went to the toilet and it was there that he poured kerosene over himself, and also drank kerosene. When he ran into the road on fire he faced Kirti monastery and I don’t know exactly what he said but I think he was praying something.” The Tibetan, who is around the same age as Losang Jamyang, added: “Every night before I go to sleep I imagine this in my mind. It is like a nightmare.”
Twenty-three of the 33 Tibetans who have self-immolated since February, 2009, are from Ngaba, and most are monks or former monks from Kirti monastery, one of the most important and influential on the Tibetan plateau. Ngaba has long had one of the densest concentrations of monks and nuns in Tibet (ICT: Self-immolation fact sheet).
A month after Losang Jamyang’s self-immolation, Guardian journalist Jonathan Watts made a clandestine trip to Ngaba, confirming the military lockdown in his footage. Jonathan Watts, a China correspondent for the UK newspaper, said: “Chinese paramilitaries are trying to snuff out Tibetan resistance to Beijing’s rule with spiked batons, semi-automatic weapons and fire extinguishers.”