Some 5,000 Tibetan monks and area residents in a Tibetan-populated county in China’s Sichuan province turned out in a heavy rain Wednesday night to honor the latest self-immolation protester to die challenging Chinese rule, according to an exile Tibetan source.
Chinese authorities forced the residents to hold the funeral of Rikyo, a 33-year-old mother of three who set herself ablaze on Wednesday, on the same day, warning that they would seize her body if the order was not obeyed.
Rikyo self-immolated near a monastery in Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang) county in the Ngaba (Aba) Tibetan prefecture, bringing to 38 the number of burnings so far by Tibetans challenging rule by Beijing and calling for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“Rikyo, who self-immolated on May 30, was cremated late in the night of the same day at around 11 p.m.," Tsangyang Gyatso, a Tibetan living in India, said.
"She was cremated at a cemetery located on a hillside close to the Jonang Dzamthang monastery."
“Over 5,000 monks and local Tibetans gathered there to pay their respects,” Gyatso said.
“Despite a heavy rain in the area, the Tibetan supporters conducted prayers until about 3:00 a.m. on May 31,” he said.
'A devoted Buddhist'
Rikyo, who died at the same site where two cousins self-immolated about a month ago in a protest against Chinese rule, was “a devoted Buddhist practitioner,” Gyatso said.
“Prior to the day of her death, she prostrated continuously day and night for several days,” he added.
Following her death, Rikyo’s body was taken to the nearby Jonang monastery, prompting Chinese authorities to insist that her remains be cremated on that same day.
“If this was not done, the authorities threatened that they would take possession of the body by force. So her body was cremated late that night despite the heavy rain,” Gyatso said.
Rikyo’s self-immolation came three days after two young Tibetan men set themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa—the first such case reported in the heavily guarded capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Nearly all the self-immolation protests so far have taken place in Sichuan and in two other Tibetan-populated provinces in western China—Qinghai and Gansu—as Tibetans challenge China’s rule in historically Tibetan areas.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.