A teenage Tibetan girl set herself on fire and died in Western China’s Qinghai province on Sunday in a challenge to Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, sources in the region and living in exile said.
It was the third self-immolation by a Tibetan in the last two days, and the 95th since the wave of fiery protests began in February 2009.
The 17-year-old, identified by separate sources as Benchen Kyi or Rinchen Kyi, set herself ablaze at around 8:00 p.m. local time on Dec. 9 in the Dokarmo nomadic area of Tsekhog (in Chinese, Zeku) county in Qinghai’s Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to a Tibetan resident of the area.
Kyi was the second-oldest of three siblings and is survived by her father Sonam Tsering and her mother Sermo, the source said, speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity.
Separately, and quoting contacts in the region, a Tibetan living in Switzerland said the young woman died calling for the long life of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“Before she set herself on fire, she told a trusted friend that she wanted to burn herself in the nomadic area so that her parents, and not the Chinese police, would take custody of her body,” the source, named Shawa Dorje, said.
“A number of Tibetans gathered at the site of her self-immolation and said prayers for her and for the Dalai Lama’s long life,” Dorje added.
Kyi’s remains were then cremated in a ceremony attended by her family members and thousands of local Tibetans, the online Tibet Express said, citing local sources.
Kyi’s fatal protest followed the self-immolations on Saturday of a monk, Konchok Phelgyal, 24, and a layman, Pema Dorje, 23, who died in separate burnings in China’s Sichuan and Gansu provinces while calling for the return of exiled spiritual leaders and the unity of the Tibetan people.
The burnings came after a statement last week by Maria Otero, the U.S. State Department’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who said Washington is “deeply concerned and saddened” by the increasing frequency of Tibetan self-immolations.
“Chinese authorities have responded to these tragic incidents with measures that tighten already strict controls on freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association of Tibetans,” Otero said.
Since late October, Chinese officials have responded to the burning protests by punishing the families and associates of self-immolators and by deploying paramilitary forces and restricting communications and travel in the areas where self-immolations have occurred.
Detained for ‘inciting’
Meanwhile, Chinese official media on Sunday reported the detention in Sichuan of a Tibetan monk and his nephew on charges they had incited the self-immolations of eight Tibetan protesters, three of whom died of their burns.
Lorang Konchok, 40, and his nephew “acted on the instructions of the Dalai Lama and his followers, according to his own confession and a police investigation,” the state-controlled Xinhua news service said.
Speaking to RFA, a New York-based representative of the Dalai Lama denied the accusation.
“[China’s charge] only points to the fact that Tibetan self-immolations are attracting more and more attention from the international community,” Kunga Tashi, Chinese Liaison Officer for The Office of Tibet, said.
“I think that most people will not believe what Xinhua says,” Tashi said.
Beijing-based veteran journalist Gao Yu added that “Chinese authorities are dealing with the self-immolations in the old way, such as calling the Tibetans who have burned themselves ‘criminals’ and accusing the so-called ‘Dalai clique’ of abetting the burnings.”
“Is it really that easy to ‘abet’ Tibetans to kill themselves?” she asked.
Reported by Kunsang Tenzin and Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated by Karma Dorjee and Ping Chen. Written in English by Richard Finney.