Chinese authorities said on Friday they were investigating the death of a person by self-immolation in a Tibetan area of northwestern Qinghai province, where several Tibetans have in the past year set themselves on fire in protest.
The State-run Xinhua news agency reported a person died on Friday morning in Jianzha county of the Huangnan Tibetan autonomous prefecture. Prefecture authorities were investigating the person’s identity and cause of death, the report said. Overseas groups said the protester was a middle-aged man who set himself on fire outside a military compound.
More than three dozen Tibetans have been reported as setting themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of northwestern China, mainly in the provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. The self-immolation protests have brought a tight security clampdown, with restrictions imposed on travel for Tibetans and many Tibetan areas now deemed out of bounds to journalists.
Last month, the protests spread to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), with two Tibetan monks from Gansu and Sichuan setting themselves on fire at the heart of Lhasa near the famous Jokhang temple.
In the 38 self-immolation protests reported by monks and exiled groups – the government has only confirmed some of the protests – at least 29 people have died. Only three protests have been reported inside TAR, where around half of China's six million Tibetans live, with the rest taking place in the three neighbouring provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. At least 25 self-immolations were reported in Tibetan areas in Sichuan province alone, where Chinese authorities have accused exiled monks in India of stirring unrest in monasteries.
Among the 38 protesters were six nuns, a high-school student in Gansu and a farmer in Qinghai. Qinghai, where the latest protest was reported, is a northwestern province that is home to several important Tibetan monasteries. At least five self-immolations have been reported in the province.
Chinese authorities have accused exiled Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama of instigating the protests, labelling the acts as separatist. The Dalai Lama has denied encouraging the protests, blaming restrictive Chinese policies for triggering the events. The exiled religious leader has expressed sympathy with the monks and stopped short of calling on Tibetans to stop the protests, declining to answer a question last month when asked if he thought the self-immolations should end.
The acts have divided opinion among monks and the Tibetan community, which has expressed sympathy for the monks, viewing their acts as sacrifices, but also voiced concern about the trend bringing a strong security response from the authorities and having a negative bearing on the future of the Tibetan movement.
Tibetan poets Woeser and Gade Tsering, who both reside in China, in an appeal called on monks, intellectuals and officials to help prevent more immolations. “Staying alive allows us to gather the strength as drops of water to form a great ocean,” the appeal said.
The Chinese government has responded to the protests by increasing security deployments in Sichuan and Gansu and also rolling out a slew of welfare measures for monks and nuns and initiating “patriotic education” campaigns.
On Tuesday, the government-run All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) said it had “trained” 127 practicing Tibetan Buddhist nuns from TAR, Qinghai and Gansu by organising tours to Beijing, health camps and “briefings on China’s current situation, the country’s laws and policies on religious affairs”.
Chen Xiurong, Vice President of the ACWF, told the Xinhua news agency that “such training offers Buddhist nuns new knowledge and experiences on the changes happening in this country.”