'Human torch' protest is stifled by censors

  • @cliffordcoonan

China's "Great Firewall" has been in overdrive over the last three weeks in an effort to prevent information leaking out about a man who apparently set himself alight in front of a portrait of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

The incident reportedly took place on 21 October, but no mention has been made of it in the press or on the internet, nor has it been referred to on Weibo, China's version of the banned microblogging site Twitter.

A Daily Telegraph reader sent a series of holiday photographs of the incident to the newspaper yesterday, purportedly showing the man just after the fire had been extinguished.

It is thought that the victim was protesting at a recent court decision. The Beijing Public Security Bureau confirmed the incident took place, and said the man had survived the attempted immolation.

Tiananmen Square was the focal point of pro-democracy demonstrations across China between April and June 1989. These were crushed by the People's Liberation Army. Now, people rarely succeed in using Tiananmen Square to protest. Security is tight at all times.

Self-immolation is traditionally used as a last resort by political protesters or by people upset that the government has not addressed their complaints.

Since March, 11 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns have set themselves on fire, and six have died.

In an unrelated case, but one arising from a similar sense of powerlessness in the face of authority, an 81-year-old woman died after setting herself alight in her bedroom earlier this month as a demolition team led by local officials were trying to knock down her home.