A Tibetan has self-immolated on Thursday in a city of Gansu province, London-based NGO Free Tibet said, corroborated by a source at US-backed Radio Free Asia.

Graphic video footage shows a person walking along the sidewalk as their body was burning. A local source told RFA that the incident took place at about 7pm on a main road from the Machu (Maqu in Chinese) county centre to the Machu bridge.

Photo: Screenshot from Free Tibet video.

“Many who saw the protest said the self-immolator was praying to [exiled spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama,” RFA’s source said.

The current Dalai Lama is viewed as a dangerous separatist by Chinese authorities, though he says he only seeks greater autonomy for Tibet. Chinese authorities blame the spiritual leader for inciting the immolations. The Dalai Lama has called the acts “understandable” and “sad,” but questioned their effectiveness and says he does not encourage them.

Slogans and prayers

The NGO said the self-immolation took place around 5pm and that onlookers said he was shouting slogans calling for the freedom of Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama. The NGO released seven videos taken from different viewpoints and of varying quality along with several photographs of the incident. It said the material came from social media [Link: Graphic images]

The videos show people gathering around the person, who had fallen, still burning, onto the ground. Some onlookers appeared to be chanting prayers. One woman shown walking towards the burning body was chanting “Gyalwa Tenzin Gyatso Khyenno” (May His Holiness the Dalai Lama Bless Him), the NGO said.

Another video appeared to show the police lifting and removing the charred body.

No other details are known about the protester and their condition is unknown.

This is the first self-immolation in Tibetan-populated regions since a monk died after setting himself on fire in March this year, the NGO said.

self immolation gansu
Video appears to show police removing the body. Photo: Screenshot from video supplied by Free Tibet.

RFA puts the number of self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since 2009 at 146, including this one. They are a common form of protest against Chinese rule.

Update: 23:55Free Tibet says that the protester has been confirmed as former monk Tashi Rabten. His wife, two children and a number of relatives have been taken into custody, the NGO says. Director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said: “Having lost a father and a husband, Tashi Rabten’s family now find themselves in detention. The cruelty of this system knows no bounds. The only crime they have committed is to be the family of someone who has embarrassed China by once again reminding the world that their occupation and these human rights abuses cause Tibetans real pain. And sometimes this pain pushes Tibetans to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.