Security forces have launched a renewed crackdown in Tibetan-dominated regions after three more people set themselves on fire to protest against Chinese rule, including a mother of three who self-immolated and died outside a monastery, activists said yesterday.
The 33-year-old women – named only as Rechok – set herself on fire outside the Jonang monastery in the Aba region of Sichuan province, which is dominated by ethnic Tibetans. She died at the scene, the advocacy group Free Tibet said, and her body was due to be cremated at the temple.
Rechok's death followed the self-immolations at the weekend of two men who set themselves alight in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, sparking a massive security crackdown. Lhasa has been heavily guarded by Chinese police and soldiers since deadly anti-government protests in March 2008. Chinese authorities have branded the self-immolators "terrorists".
"We have reports of arbitrary detentions in the vast majority of places where there have been protests and self-immolations, and in many places there have been disappearances," said Harriet Beaumont, a spokesperson for Free Tibet.
Rechok becomes the 35th Tibetan to immolate since March last year to protest at the growing influence of Han China in the Tibetan plateau and to seek the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. At least 27 of those who set themselves on fire have died.
Most of the immolations have taken place outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, in Sichuan province, which has a sizeable Tibetan population, focused on two prefectures – Aba, which the Tibetans call Ngawa, and Ganzi, or Kardze in Tibetan. About one million Tibetans live in these areas.
Rechok's death adds to rising tensions focused on the month-long Saga Dawa holiday, one of Tibet's most important holidays. The festival itself falls on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan Calendar, which this year is 4 June, already a tense date as it is also marks the anniversary of the crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Locals and many pilgrims from all over the region were rounded up and brought to detention centres around the city, while anyone not from Tibet has been expelled, the broadcaster Radio Free Asia said, estimating the number detained at about 600. Checkpoints manned by Chinese security forces have been set up at key areas near the Jokhang Temple.
Independent verification is difficult, as foreign journalists are not allowed into Tibet without special permission.
Recent developments have prompted Hao Peng, deputy party secretary in the Tibet Autonomous Region, to call on authorities to tighten their grip on communications, including the internet and mobile text messaging.
"Hao Peng stressed that... the trouble caused by the activities of the Dalai clique has persisted, and the situation for stability maintenance is still complicated and grim," the official Tibet Daily newspaper reported.