Questions pile up as facts about Tibetan singer’s alleged death from self-immolation is suppressed

Tsewang Norbu tibet singer
Image: Tsampa Eater
  • Tsewang Norbu, a 25-year-old Tibetan singer and former reality show contestant, reportedly died after setting himself on fire in late February.
  • While fans have mourned the young star, circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear as Chinese authorities prevent information from spreading online. 
  • Contrary to Tibetan sources, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reportedly suggested that he is still alive, saying he was taken in for treatment.
  • The Ministry also claimed that Norbu has been struggling with mental illness and has attempted to kill himself “multiple times.”
  • An exiled close relative of Norbu reportedly reached out to his family members in Tibet, but they told him “it was difficult to get clear information.”

Warning: This article contains references to attempted suicide that some readers may find disturbing.  

Circumstances surrounding the alleged death of a beloved Tibetan singer after an act of self-immolation remain shrouded in mystery as Chinese authorities prevent information from spreading online. 

Tsewang Norbu, 25, set himself on fire in front of the historic Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, on Feb. 25, according to Tibet-focused reports. Chinese authorities intervened and took him into custody, but it’s unclear whether he died following the act. 

Nevertheless, fans have mourned Norbu for weeks. The former “Sing! China” contestant has released hit songs such as “Tsampa” and “Dress Up.” 

Norbu’s self-immolation was said to be the first case since 2019 and the first case in Lhasa since 2012. It also came days before Tibetan Uprising Day on March 10, which commemorates the Asian region’s uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

As of this writing, Norbu’s whereabouts can only be speculated. On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reportedly suggested that he is still alive, telling reporters that a Tibetan man was taken in for treatment after his act of “attempted suicide by self-immolation” last month.

The ministry also mentioned that the man has a history of mental illness and has attempted to kill himself “multiple times.” These claims, however, have not been independently verified.

Norbu’s Weibo account, which has nearly 600,000 followers, has also been suspended for “violating relevant laws and regulations.” Additionally, the platform locked all of the comment sections under his posts and even removed a hashtag dedicated to him.

Such restrictions only make it more difficult for independent sources to verify Norbu’s death. Reports that diplomats, journalists and even tourists have been “systematically” denied access to Tibet may also make it impossible to provide a greater picture of the region’s true situation.

Earlier this month, a U.S. State Department report claimed that China’s security forces “used conspicuous monitoring to intimidate U.S. diplomats and officials including while on personal travel to Tibetan areas, followed them, prevented them from meeting or speaking with local contacts, harassed them, and restricted their movement in these areas.” China, in response, said that these claims are “fraught with bias.”

Even Norbu’s own family members are unsure of his whereabouts, according to reports. Ngawang Tharpa, a close relative and a member of the 16th Tibetan Parliament in exile, said he “couldn’t believe” the news of Norbu’s death.

Tharpa reportedly contacted his relatives in Tibet to confirm the news. However, they said “it was difficult to get clear information.” He claimed that he eventually heard from another source that Norbu succumbed to his injuries.

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