At least six Tibetans may have been killed and an unknown number injured when security forces fired on protesters in China’s Sichuan province on Monday, Tibetan sources in the region and in exile said.
The shooting sparked wider protests and has raised tensions in Tibetan-populated regions of China following a wave of self-immolation protests beginning in March 2011 against rule by Beijing.
“Today, Jan. 23, many Tibetans began a peaceful protest against Chinese rule at the Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo) county center,” in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan living in the area said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“At least two Tibetans were shot to death, and over ten were injured,” after Chinese police “violently suppressed the protest,” the source said.
One of the protesters also attempted to set himself ablaze, the source added.
Tibet’s India-based exile government quoted sources saying six had been killed in what it described as “indiscriminate firing” by police.
The protest began when Chinese authorities insisted that local Tibetans celebrate the Lunar New Year against the wishes of residents saddened by earlier protest deaths, said Lobsang Khyentse, an India-based Tibetan reporter citing contacts in the region.
A few days before, an unsigned poster had been put up in front of the Draggo county headquarters saying, "We Tibetans have no freedom, and this year several Tibetans have sacrificed their lives," Khyentse said.
"So on the occasion of Chinese New Year, I am going to self-immolate," the poster said. "I urge all the Tibetan people to prevent the Chinese from taking my dead body."
Thousands of Tibetans have now joined in the protest, said Yeshe Sangpo, a Tibetan monk living in India and citing sources in the region.
Initially, a group of a few hundred shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, he said.
‘When the protesters arrived in front of the local Chinese police, the police opened fire,” killing two on the spot, Yeshe Sangpo said.
“The protest began in the morning and continues now [at about 3:30 p.m. in Tibet]. The protesters have done serious damage, and have destroyed Chinese shops and other Chinese facilities in the area.”
“When we reached the police station, police fired on us with automatic weapons,” a monk who participated in the protest said. “They also used firefighters and tear gas to disperse the crowd.”
One protester, identified as Yonten, was killed and at least 32 others were injured, five of them seriously, he said, adding that some injured protesters were taken to safety by relatives.
Another Tibetan, identified only as the son of a man named Logya, was also killed, sources said.
Another participant in the protest said that “hundreds” of Tibetans had been detained following the shooting.
An online Tibetan news magazine based in Dharamsala, India, confirmed the account, saying that Chinese police had killed “at least six” Tibetans, a number cited by Tibet’s parliament in exile.
“About 6,000 Tibetans from Tawu and Kardze counties have now assembled at Draggo [monastery] to protest,” The online Tibet Express said.
“It has been reported that at least six Tibetans were killed, and several injured,” the online magazine said.
“Tenzin Thargyal, a Tibetan doctor at Draggo monastery was shot and seriously hurt. Tibetans have now gathered at the monastery, and there is new tension in the area.”
Thirty-two of the injured were taken to Draggo monastery, a protester at the monastery said, speaking to RFA by phone.
In a statement released by the India-based Tibet Central Administration, Tibet's government-in exile, the Tibetan parliament said it is "deeply aggrieved by the incidents and condemns the Chinese authorities for resorting to such drastic acts of force and repression."
“We are also taken aback by the silence of the International Community when it comes to such gross violation[s] of Human Rights in Tibet,” the statement said.
Reached for comment, an officer at the Kardze prefectural police headquarters said, “We deal with all kinds of protests … the situation is under control.”
Calls to the Draggo county police station rang unanswered Monday.
Reported by Chakmo Tso, Lobsang Choephel, and Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translations by Dorjee Damdul, Karma Dorjee, and Rigdhen Dolma. Written in English by Richard Finney.