A 24-year-old Tibetan man has himself on fire on Saturday in a Tibetan region of Sichuan province, China, according to US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) and London-based NGO Free Tibet.

Citing Tibetans in exile, RFA reported that Pema Gyaltsen, a young farmer, self-immolated at around 4pm in the Xinlong county of the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture near a monastery. The report was corroborated by Free Tibet.

Pema Gyaltsen
Pema Gyaltsen. Photos: Supplied to RFA by activists.

Two sources told RFA that he was taken to a hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan. One said he later died, but the other said his local contacts told him they believed he was still alive. Local police quickly removed his charred body from the scene, they said.

“He called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and said there is no freedom in Tibet at the time of self-immolation,” one source said. The Dalai Lama – the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet – is viewed as a dangerous separatist by Chinese authorities, though he says he only seeks greater autonomy for Tibet.

Another source with local contacts said police beat the close relatives of Pema Gyaltsen and detained them when they went to the Kardze county police station to see him.

A video circulating on social media and re-posted by Free Tibet taken from a window overlooking a street appeared to show Chinese police dispersing onlookers.

Local authorities blocked Chinese messaging app WeChat following the incident, RFA’s sources said.

YouTube video

Self immolations are a common form of protest against Chinese rule. According to the International Campaign for Tibet, 146 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009. Pema Gyaltsen’s protest puts the number at 147. It was the second case of self-immolation in Xinlong, after the death of an 18-year-old monk in March 2016.

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.