Updated at 12:40 p.m. EST on 2013-02-17
A Tibetan man set himself on fire in China’s Gansu province Sunday in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet, bringing the total number of Tibetan self-immolations to 102, sources said.
Namlha Tsering, 49, also known as Hoba, carried out his protest in the middle of a busy street in the seat of Sangchu (in Chinese, Xiahe) county in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a source inside Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Today, Feb. 17, a Tibetan named Namlha Tsering self-immolated in the downtown area of Sangchu county in protest against Chinese policy in Tibet,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“He was a resident of Gengya township, an affiliate township of the Labrang monastery in Kanlho prefecture in Gansu.”
The burning marked the second in Sangchu county in days.
On Wednesday, Drukpa Khar, 26, died after dousing himself in gasoline and setting himself alight in Achok town in Sangchu.
Photos sent to RFA by a source from the area showed Namlha Tsering’s body engulfed in flames as he sat cross-legged in a roadway with cars passing by him.
Later photos show Chinese security personnel surrounding the area where his body had lain, ashes clearly visible on the ground.
Namlha Tsering’s condition was unknown Sunday, but reports said that he was unlikely to have survived the ordeal and that he had been bundled away by Chinese authorities.
The London-based Free Tibet advocacy group said in a statement Sunday that eyewitnesses had described Namlha Tsering as being "severely burned" in the protest and said that he had been taken away by security forces who subsequently stated that he had died.
Free Tibet said that Namlha Tsering has a wife and four sons, the oldest of whom is a monk.
His protest comes on the fifth day of the traditional Tibetan Losar New Year, which has been marked this year by most Tibetans with prayers for compatriots who burned themselves to death during the year to challenge Chinese rule.
The latest incident raised the self-immolation toll to 102 despite Chinese government moves to detain, charge, and jail Tibetans over suspected roles in the burnings or other protests questioning Beijing’s rule in Tibetan-populated areas and calling for the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Beijing has defended its rule of Tibet and says the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders in exile have orchestrated the self-immolations from their base in India.
But Tibetan exile leaders deny involvement in the burnings and have called on Tibetans in Tibet to exercise restraint.
At least 15 Tibetans, including monks, have been jailed in recent weeks in connection with the self-immolations. Some were handed sentences of up to 13 years.
Rights groups have condemned the Chinese authorities for criminalizing the burning protests and cracking down on Tibetans who are seen to have provided encouragement or support.
In addition to the harsh sentences, Chinese authorities have also deployed paramilitary forces, shut down communications and restricted travel in the areas where self-immolations have occurred.
Stephanie Brigden, director of Free Tibet, said that the burning protests had continued, despite the tough new measures Beijing had introduced in the region.
“During November when the Chinese leadership transition took place, self-immolation protests were an almost daily occurrence. Since then, China has introduced a slew of new repressive measures in an attempt to stop them," she said.
"It is now clear that there are still Tibetans willing to undertake this most extreme form of protest and just as importantly, other Tibetans willing to risk the wrath of the state by reporting their actions to the outside world.”
The U.S. State Department on Friday noted the “horrific figures” of burning protests in Tibet and expressed deep concern over the self-immolations.
“We call on those who are immolating or those who might be considering this to think hard about whether it’s the best way to express yourself,” department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
“And we also, as we always do, call on the Chinese Government to address its own policies in Tibet that have caused these kinds of tension and frustration.”
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin and Chakmo Tso for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.