A Tibetan nun in China's south-western Sichuan province died after setting herself on fire, becoming at least the eleventh Tibetan to carry out a self-immolation protest since March.
Palden Choetso (35) took her own life in Sichuan's predominantly Tibetan Kardze prefecture, or Ganzi in Chinese. Only last week, another Tibetan, a monk, carried out a self-immolation protest in Kardze during a religious ceremony at a monastery.
Her death was confirmed by the State-run Xinhua news agency on Thursday, which identified her by the Chinese name of Qiu Xiang.
Xinhua said she had set herself on fire at a road crossing in Dawu before 1 p.m., adding that local authorities were investigating why she carried out the self-immolation.
In several of the earlier reported cases, the monks had said they were protesting China's religious policies before setting themselves on fire, according to exiled Tibetan groups.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said on Friday the incidents were related to the activities of “overseas separatists”.
“As is well known, except for a few extreme religious sects in the world, all religious groups respect life and oppose violence,” he said. “Not condemning self-immolation, but playing it up and inciting others to follow the example, is challenging the common conscience and moral bottom-line of humanity.”
Since March, 11 Tibetans, including two nuns, have set themselves on fire, with at least six of them dying. All the self-immolations have taken place in Sichuan's predominantly Tibetan prefectures of Kardze and nearby Aba. As yet, no similar incidents have been reported either in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or in Tibetan-populated areas of nearby Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.
In recent weeks, Chinese authorities have tightened security in Kardze and Aba, where nine of the immolations occurred. Several Tibetans from Aba and nearby regions, who are now living in Beijing, told The Hindu last week that additional military and paramilitary forces had been deployed in the region, with Aba sealed off. Telephone communications and access to the Internet have also been restricted, while several journalists who attempted to reach Aba were turned away by police.
Earlier this year, a local court in Sichuan jailed at least two Tibetan monks for “intentional homicide” following the first self-immolation case in Aba's Kirti monastery in March, when a monk, Rigzin Phuntsog, set himself on fire.
Tsering Tenzin and Tenchum of Kirti were sentenced to 13 years and 10 years in prison by a county court in Aba, according to Xinhua. The two monks were accused of “plotting and instigating” his self-immolation, as well as sending photographs to “a monk living overseas” through the Internet.