Five Tibetans drowned earlier this week in a restive central Tibetan county while escaping police after authorities foiled their plan to self-immolate in a challenge to Chinese rule, according to a local source.
Names of the dead and detained were not immediately available, but the planned burnings would have been the second self-immolation protest known to have occurred in Driru county in the Nagchu prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
So far, 95 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze to protest Chinese rule since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009, with most occurring in Tibetan-populated areas of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu.
“On Dec. 9, on the eve of World Human Rights Day, seven Tibetans from Balkar town in Driru planned to self-immolate in a protest against China’s policies in Tibet,” a caller from the area told RFA’s Tibetan service.
Chinese police discovered the plan and attempted to take the protesters into custody, but the Tibetans “ran away,” the caller said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The Chinese pursued them and managed to detain two, but the other five refused to surrender and jumped into a river and died,” he said.
Leaflets call for freedom
Leaflets calling for Tibetan freedom appeared the next day posted on government buildings and on stone posts in local grasslands, the source said.
“We are ready to give our lives for the cause of freedom,” said the leaflets, which were written in Tibetan.
The leaflets called for the return to Tibet of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, for the release of the Panchen Lama and for the unity of Tibet’s three historical regions of Central Tibet, Kham, and Amdo.
The Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-highest religious figure, was detained by Chinese authorities as a child in 1995 after being named to his position by the Dalai Lama, and another child—widely regarded by Tibetans as a Chinese puppet—was installed in his place.
The leaflets also acknowledged the “sacrifices of those heroic Tibetans” who have already died in protests against Beijing’s rule.
Reached for comment, Driru county police officers refused to speak to a reporter on Friday about the reported drownings.
But a woman answering the phone at a Nagchu prefecture government office said, “Nothing like this has happened.”
Asked about the self-immolation in October of a Driru resident named Gudrub, the woman replied, “We can’t talk about things like that.”
Gudrub, who died in a self-immolation protest in a Driru marketplace on Oct. 4, shouted slogans calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama after he set himself ablaze.
He left a written statement calling on the Tibetan people to “foster unity and solidarity” and not “lose courage” in the struggle for Tibetan freedom, according to a former classmate now living Australia.
Tibetans in Driru have been in the forefront of opposition to Chinese rule in the TAR, with monks and nuns protesting and abandoning monasteries in order to defy “intrusive” new Chinese regulations.
China's clampdown in the Driru area has been "very stringent, with several hundred Tibetans detained and many severely tortured," RFA's source in the area said.
"Over 30 Tibetans have been detained just from Gudrub's hometown alone," he said.
Reported by Yangdon Demo for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.