A Tibetan writer and poet who studied in India died on Thursday after setting himself on fire to protest Chinese policies in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), according to monks in Dharamsala and Tibetan sources.

Gudrup (43) set himself on fire on Thursday morning in a town in TAR’s Nagqu prefecture, they said. He had left a note on a popular Chinese social networking website, called QQ, in which he called for “unity among all Tibetans", the monks added.

More than 50 self-immolation protests have taken place in China since 2011. The protests have been predominantly carried out by monks and nuns in Tibetan monastery towns outside the TAR, in the western provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai.

Gudrup’s self-immolation marked the first instance of such a protest by a Tibetan writer in China known for his political activism, monks in India said. His writings and poems, posted online, were followed by many in the Tibetan community, although they were frequently subjected to censorship restrictions. In a blog post in March, Gudrup wrote of a widening “non-violent movement”, speaking of the spreading self-immolation protests close to the anniversary of the 2008 riots.

His self-immolation came less than a week after reports said a young Tibetan had died in a similar protest in northwestern Qinghai. Earlier this week, exiled groups reported four Tibetans, including two teenage monks, were jailed by authorities for allegedly conveying news of the protests and assisting a monk in carrying out a self-immolation in Aba, the Sichuan town where most of the protests have taken place. The jail terms ranged from seven to 11 years, the groups said.

According to a monk in India, Gudrup studied at the Tibetan Transit School in Dharamsala before returning to Tibet in 2005. He often used the pen name “Youth of the Snow Realm”.

The self-immolation protests have appeared to divide the Tibetan community. In Dharamsala this week, members of the exiled community met to discuss the protests. While the Dharamsala exiled administration has issued appeals for the protests to stop, others in the Tibetan community have called for more support for those have carried out the immolations.

Some Tibetan writers in China have issued an appeal calling for the self-immolations to stop, arguing that Tibetans needed “to cherish life” to fight for their rights.

Underscoring the sensitivity of the issue, even the Dalai Lama has said he would “remain neutral” on the question. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told The Hindu in an interview in July in his first detailed comments on the self-immolations that the protests were “a very, very delicate” political issue. He pointed out that it would not be appropriate for him to say anything “negative” about those who had sacrificed their lives. At the same time, he rejected Chinese accusations of a “plot” and stressed that he was not encouraging the protests, instead calling on the Chinese government to examine its policies in Tibet.

The Beijing-based Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser on Friday posted on her blog a translation of one of Gudrup’s writings. “Brothers and sisters of the snow-covered Tibetan land, when looking back at our past it is rarely a joyful scene,” he wrote. “We must not lose our faith, we must strengthen our unity".

More In: International | News