Two Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the past week in self-immolation protests, now numbering at least 30 in the last year, that prompted hundreds to gather in mourning amid tight security.
Jamyang Palden, a 39-year-old monk, walked out of the Rongwo monastery to a town square in Tongren, in northwest Qinghai province known as Rebkong in Tibetan, in a petrol-doused robe and set himself on fire on Wednesday, the official Xinhua news agency and overseas groups reported. He survived after police covered his body with a sheet and was reportedly later taken to a hospital.
This was followed by the death of 44-year-old farmer Sonam Thargyal, who drank kerosene and set himself on fire in the same county, according to overseas groups. While this incident has not yet been confirmed by State media, photographs circulating on the Internet showed several hundred Tibetans gathering on Saturday to mourn his death. Overseas groups said at least 7,000 had gathered, though the numbers could not be confirmed.
Officials said they wanted to take Jamyang Palden to a hospital in the provincial capital Xining for treatment, but were talking to his relatives first. In earlier self-immolation protests, monks in monasteries had been reluctant to allow the authorities to take away the monks for treatment, as officials have hit out at the self-immolations as “criminal” acts and threatened punishments.
Many of the monks and nuns who have set themselves on fire have said they were protesting restrictive religious policies. Some of them have called for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama before the protests.
The government says the self-immolations are a political plot backed by the Dalai Lama to undermine its rule. However, the exiled religious leader has said he did not encourage the acts, though he has expressed sympathy with the monks and blamed Chinese policies for the incidents.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said he was “deeply distressed” by the incidents and viewed the monks as “innocent”. The government, he said, was “opposed to such radical moves that disturb and undermine social harmony”.