More Self-Immolations Reported in Sichuan

Just two weeks after Chinese authorities opened fire on Tibetan protesters in Sichuan province, three Tibetan livestock herders reportedly set themselves ablaze to protest continued repression by the Chinese government over the weekend. From The New York Times:

If confirmed, the latest cases would bring the total self-immolations over the past year to 19, an unprecedented wave of self-inflicted violence among the tiny ethnic minority in China, according to scholars. They were also apparently the first by lay people, rather than current or former members of the clergy, suggesting that self-immolation may be gaining popularity as a form of dissent.

The incidents took place Friday in a remote village in Seda County, once a center of Buddhist teaching, but reports did not surface until the weekend because the government has cut Internet and telephone connections to the area, said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet in Beijing.

She said that one of the three men had died and that the other two, believed to be about 30 and 60 years old, were severely injured.

The local party secretary for Seda County disputed the latest reports in a Global Times article published Monday:

“Everything is all right here, although we still have no Internet access,” said Wang, who said there had been rumors saying some Tibetans were going to set themselves on fire, but “it has not happened.”

Zhang Yang, from the publicity department of the Party committee of Sichuan Province, told the Global Times that he has not heard of any self-immolation incidents over this weekend.

Despite claims in official state media that recent unrest between Tibetans and local authorities in Sichuan is no cause for concern, Beijing has put officials on alert ahead of this month’s Tibetan New Year festival. From The Telegraph:

“Officials must put all their efforts into maintaining a stable, unified social situation in our region. They must have a clear head and fully recognise the extreme importance and urgency of the job of maintaining stability,” a Communist Party notice said in the state-run Tibet Daily newspaper.

“Government departments must unstintingly carry out all measures designed to maintain stability, ” the notice ordered.

The diktat did not detail what measures should be deployed to quell any further unrest.

But with the fifth anniversary of the large-scale March 2008 Tibet uprising also looming, the message to strike hard and stamp out any signs of mass revolt was clear.

Meanwhile, the elected leader of Tibet’s government in exile told the Financial Times on Monday that he is worried about a forceful crackdown by the Chinese government:

“The military build-up is increasing rapidly. We have seen pictures of hundreds of convoys filled with paramilitary forces with automatic machine guns moving towards various parts of Tibetan areas,” Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, told the Financial Times on Monday, referring to images sent by sources in the Tibetan region.

“We are really worried that with such a military security build-up and so many guns in the hands of Chinese police and military personnel, we fear the Chinese government is preparing for something very drastic and unforeseen and tragic.”

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