A Tibetan widow and a middle school girl set themselves on fire and died at the weekend in China’s Sichuan and Ganzu provinces in self-immolation protests demanding freedom and an end to Chinese rule, according to sources on Sunday.
This brings to 25 the number of Tibetans who have self-immolated since February 2009 in protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibetan-populated areas while calling for the return of Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Following the self-immolations, Chinese authorities have tightened security in the two areas and in the Tibet Autonomous Region ahead of what Tibetans call “Uprising Day” on March 10, the sensitive anniversaries of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile in 1959 and of deadly riots in 2008.
On Sunday, a 32-year-old widow and mother of four, identified as Rinchen, torched herself in front of the restive Kirti monastery in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, succumbing to her burns on the spot, the sources said.
She set herself on fire right in front of a Chinese police surveillance station at the main gate of the Kirti monastery, which has been under siege by Chinese security forces and from where hundreds of monks have been taken into custody since early last year.
“She called for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet and freedom for Tibet. She died at the very site where she set her body on fire,” said a Tibetan monk, Kanyak Tsering, of the exile Kirti monastery in India’s Dharamsala hill town, where the Dalai Lama lives.
On Saturday, a girl from the Tibetan Middle School self-immolated at a vegetable market in Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county in Gansu province’s Kaniho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan autonomous prefecture, an exile source said, quoting local contacts.
The Chinese vendors alerted the police who urged them to prevent her from leaving the market, the source said.
“The Chinese vendors at the Machu vegetable market threw stones at her burning body,” the source said, adding that the girl died at the scene.
“The Tibetans present in the market were agitated and this almost resulted in a major clash between the Tibetans and Chinese,” the source said.
Rinchen’s body was taken away by the monks at the Kirti monastery while the the body of the student is in police custody, sources said.
The Tibetan Middle School had been the scene of protests in the past by students demanding an end to tight government controls on Tibetans. Many students had also been detained previously for defying Chinese authorities.
The self-immolations at the weekend came on the eve of the opening Monday of the annual session of the largely rubber stamp Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), where the Tibetan unrest is expected to be debated.
The parliamentary meeting is the last under the present Chinese leadership before a once-in-a-decade transition of power begins later this year.
The Chinese authorities have labeled the Tibetan self-immolators as terrorists and blamed the Dalai Lama for the tense situation, saying he is encouraging the fiery acts of protest, which run contrary to Buddhist teachings.
But the Dalai Lama blamed China’s “ruthless and illogical” policy towards Tibet.
Beijing has arrested hundreds of Tibetans, mostly monks in Ngaba, following a crackdown stepped up over the last year and triggered by the self-immolations.
Reported by Lobe Socktsang and Thakla Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.