Three teenage Tibetan monks and a woman set fire to themselves to protest Chinese rule on the eve of a pivotal Communist Party congress, activists said today.
Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said the protesters timed their action in ethnic Tibetan areas of China to coincide with the party's week-long conference to elect the country's new leadership that opened yesterday.
The three monks set fire to themselves on Wednesday afternoon outside a police station in southwest Sichuan province. They were calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, Free Tibet said in a statement. The non-governmental organisation, based in London, said it was the first documented case of a triple self-immolation. The youngest monk, identified as 15-year-old Dorjee, died at the scene and his companions, Samdup and Dorjee Kyab, both 16, were taken to a hospital by security forces. Their condition is unknown.
Later that day, a 23-year-old Tibetan nomadic woman, Tamdin Tso, died after self-immolating in another ethnically Tibetan area in western Qinghai province. The woman, who had a five-year-old son, took petrol from a motorbike and set fire to herself in the family's winter pasture near Tongren, a monastery town.
Her body was taken back to her family's home where people gathered to pray, Free Tibet said. The organisation's account of the incident has not yet been be confirmed. A man at Qinghai provincial government's news office said he didn't know about the case and hung up. The communist party propaganda department in the local town Aba referred queries to prefectural and provincial authorities, where calls rang unanswered.
Since March 2011, dozens of ethnic Tibetans have self-immolated in ethnically Tibetan areas to protest what activists say is China's heavy-handed rule over the region.
Chinese authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression and have accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging the self-immolations. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.