Updated at 11:25 a.m. EST on 2013-01-14
A Tibetan teenager burned himself to death Saturday in protest against Chinese rule in Gansu province in the first Tibetan self-immolation in 2013, according to sources.
Identified only as Tsebey, he torched himself in Achok township in the Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture's Sangchu (Xiahe) county, the scene of numerous Tibetan demonstrations and self-immolation protests last year.
“He called for the return of [the Tibetan spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama to Tibet, saying, 'May he live long, and Tibet needs freedom,'" a source in Tibet with contacts in Achok township told RFA's Tibetan service.
"He died due to severe burns and the Tibetans took possession of his body and carried it to his home,” another source said. He is believed to be 19 years old.
Tsebey, from Keynang village, died on the spot, according to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Tibetan exile government in India's hill town Dharamsala.
Local Tibetans took his body to a "safe location" first and then to his home before Chinese security forces arrived at the scene of the self-immolation, the CTA said, quoting eyewitnesses.
It was the first Tibetan self-immolation protest this year, bringing to 96 the total number of burnings so far aimed at highlighting opposition to Chinese rule and seeking the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet after a failed national revolt against Chinese occupation in 1959.
“Today's events demonstrate that Tibetan rejection of the Chinese occupation is as strong as ever," said Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet, a London-based advocacy group.
"The new Chinese leadership and the international community cannot allow demands for freedom to continue to go unheeded. 2013 must be the year where positive change comes to Tibet,” she said.
The Dalai Lama this week called again for Beijing to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the causes of the self-immolation protests, at the same time dismissing official Chinese accusations of complicity in the burnings.
Charges that he has incited the fiery protests from afar are an “indication of desperation” on the part of China’s leaders and are promoted to the Chinese by a policy of “censorship” and “distorted information,” the leader told India’s NDTV news channel in a talk show.
“They really find it difficult to explain [these events] to the outside world, and also they put a lot of restriction about this information to their own people,” the Dalai Lama said.
“The time has come [for them to conduct] a thorough investigation” into the protests’ causes, he said.
Chinese authorities have beefed up security and clamped down on the Internet and other communications in the areas where self-immolations have occurred, sources said.
In the latest move, the authorities have embarked on an aggressive drive to seize satellite equipment used by Tibetans to tune in to foreign radio and TV programs, according to residents and other sources.
They said hundreds of satellite dishes and receivers have been seized from homes in Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) prefecture in Qinghai province and destroyed to prevent news on self-immolation protests from spreading.
Those found with the satellite equipment, which Tibetans have also used to listen to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programs, are given stiff fines, residents said.
The authorities are encouraging Tibetans to buy smaller satellite dishes and new receivers to replace the usually large dishes that had been confiscated.
Some suspect the new equipment, which can be used to receive only state-controlled programs, are doubling up as surveillance devices, a Tibetan in Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county told RFA's Tibetan Service.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect spelling for Tsebey's name.