REPORTING FROM BEIJING--At least one Tibetan demonstrator was killed Monday in protests timed for the Lunar New Year in a volatile region of Sichuan province that has recently seen a wave of self-immolations by monks protesting Chinese rule, activists said.
Tibetan exile groups reported that security forces opened fire on protesters during a midday clash in Luhuo. More than 30 people were reported injured.
The Tibet Express, a news service run out of Dharamsala, India, where the exiled Dalai Lama is based, claimed that the death toll was “at least six.”
It was impossible to independently confirm the reports. If they are correct, Monday’s protests would be the worst since 2008, when a wave of unrest spread from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, into dozens of small towns with large Tibetan populations in western and central China.
Protesting Communist Party restrictions on religion, 17 people, most of them Buddhist clerics, have immolated themselves in Sichuan province since mid-March.
Leaflets had been circulating in recent days in Luhuo calling for Tibetans to boycott celebrations of Chinese New Year in commemoration of the dead and suggested there would be more self-immolations at the end of next month, when Tibetans celebrate their own New Year, known as Losar.
“The sense of grief and pain about the self-immolations across Tibet is at the forefront of people’s minds, and because they could not bear it, they began to express their views and protest,” a Tibetan exile in touch with the protesters was quoted by the London-based International Campaign for Tibet. “Today was the beginning of Lunar New Year, but people in the area had decided not to celebrate because of the self-immolations that have happened.”
The Tibetan communities in western Sichuan province have been closed to journalists since April. Internet service was shut down to the affected towns this week, a technique Chinese authorities have used in the past to prevent protesters from communicating with one another or with journalists.
The Tibetan exile government in Dharamsala released a statement on its website early Tuesday saying, “The Tibetan Parliament is deeply aggrieved by the incidents and condemns the Chinese authorities for resorting to such drastic acts of force and repression.”
Until recently, self-immolation had been rare among Tibetans. To some extent, the current trend is a sign of radicalization among young Tibetans, who are moving away from the Dalai Lama’s calls for nonviolent protest.
Luhou (also known as Draggo or Drango in Tibetan) is in western Sichuan province, just outside the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tibetans call the area “East Tibet.”
Tibetans say that the Chinese government has stepped up its intervention in religious affairs, forcing monks to attend "patriotic education" classes where they study communism and renounce the Dalai Lama.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Worshipers walk along the main entrance at the Lama Temple, a renowned Tibetan monastery in Beijing, on Monday. Credit: Diego Azubel / European Pressphoto Agency