Photos have emerged of a Buddhist monk reportedly setting himself alight in a public square in Tibet.

Twenty-six year-old Sonam Topgyal “self-immolated” at around 6pm on Thursday July 9 at Gesar Square in Kyegudo in Yulshul County, Eastern Tibet, according to Radio Free Asia, which is backed by the US government. His action was an apparent protest against the Chinese government’s stance on Tibet.

According to the International Campaign for Tibet, an NGO which monitors human rights issues in the region, the incident is the sixth burning to have taken place this year. The total number of self-immolations by Tibetans in China since 2009 has now reached 142, according to the NGO.

Sonam Topgyal, a self-immolating monk
Sonam Topgyal, a 26-year-old monk, immolating himself in Gesar Square in Kyegudo in Yulshul County, Eastern Tibet. Photo: RFA.

Several news outlets reported that Topgyal’s self-immolation led to an immediate security clampdown as communications in the area were disrupted.

Topgyal was reported to have been taken away by security forces following his protest. Some news outlets reported that he was taken to a hospital but his condition and whereabouts remain unknown. Tsering Woeser, a prominent Tibetan activist, claimed on Facebook last week that Topgyal had died.

Radio Free Asia reported that Topgyal was the son of a well-known local businessman called Nangchen Tashi. Tashi is unpopular with the Chinese authorities due to his support for Tibetan language and culture.

According to Voice of America, tensions have been brewing in the Kyegudo area since an earthquake struck the region in 2010, killing thousands of people and destroying much of the town. The website goes on to say that the earthquake prompted land grabs as developers struck deals with the local authorities. Tibetans were said to have been removed from plots that they have owned for generations.

Radio Free Asia reported that Tashi’s home and business were unscathed during the earthquake but the family home was demolished by Chinese authorities in 2012 as part of a road-widening scheme. At the time, the family – including Topgyal – were briefly detained and Tashi went missing for a week. He was reportedly tortured by police.

tibet monks
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Self-immolations by Tibetans have been recorded since 2009 when a young monk self-immolated in a marketplace in Ngawa City in Sichuan. Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution urging China to improve human rights in the autonomous region and called for substantive dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama.

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.