Two Tibetans — a monk in China and a teenager in India — set themselves on fire on the same day to protest Beijing’s ironclad control of the Himalayan region, a rights group and reports said Wednesday.
Kalsang Wangdu self-immolated in front of his monastery in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province on Monday, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA), which is funded by the US government.
London-based campaign group Free Tibet confirmed his death.
The monk’s action was the first such protest in China this year, and brought the total number in the country to 144, RFA said.
As he burned, “he called out for Tibet’s complete independence”, it quoted an anonymous source in the area as saying.
Police in Xinlong county, where the incident took place, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and a woman at its religious affairs bureau said only that her department was “not very clear” on the incident.
Beijing says its troops “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951 and insists it has since brought economic development to a previously backward region where serfs were exploited.
But many Tibetans accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding their culture, and its natural resources are increasingly being exploited in ways that benefit China‘s ethnic majority Han.
Tibetan monks within China have reported a campaign of government intimidation targeting the family and friends of those who set themselves on fire.
Also on Monday, 16-year-old Dorje Tsering set himself on fire in the northern Indian city of Dehradun, RFA and Free Tibet said.
He survived with burns to 95 percent of his body and was hospitalised in Delhi.
“I have had a strong determination to do something for Tibet since my childhood,” a video showed him saying in his hospital bed, according to a translation by Free Tibet.
“I thought that there was nothing else I could do other than self-immolation, because if there is self-immolation, people get shocked, thinking that he set himself on fire for his country,” he went on, speaking through an oxygen mask and with his face swollen.
“It seems the oil put on my body was not enough for it to burn completely,” he added.
Free Tibet cited his father as saying that it was a heart-breaking incident but he was proud of his son.
The teenager is the eighth Tibetan to mount such a protest outside China, the group added.
Its director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said the boy’s actions should “shame the political leaders who put more value on friendship with China than justice for Tibet”.
“They should all watch this, and imagine if it was their child,” she added.