Tibetans in Lhasa mostly stayed indoors amid a security crackdown following the weekend self-immolation of two young Tibetan men in protest against Chinese rule, residents said.
Checkpoints manned by Chinese security forces have been set up at key points near the popular Jokhang temple located on Barkhor Square, the site of Sunday's self-immolations, and Tibetans passing through them are thoroughly screened, they said.
"The restrictions are intense. They have raised check posts at two entry points and are conducting searches on the Tibetans near Jokhang. The checking is as thorough as going through security checks at airports," one caller told RFA.
"I could not see many Tibetans in the Barkhor market and those who walk in the market area are tourists. The area is full of Chinese security forces in different uniforms," the caller said.
"I saw only about 10 who were prostrating before Jokhang Temple. This area will be packed with devotees prostrating before the temple on normal days.”
The self-immolations came as Tibetans marked the auspicious Buddhist month of Saka Dawa commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Many had planned to offer prayers at the temple.
On Sunday afternoon, the two Tibetans burned themselves in front of Jokhang Temple—reputedly the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan pilgrims—but were swiftly bundled away by security forces who arrived in several vehicles and cleared the area within 15 minutes, sources had said.
One of them died and the other was injured, state media reported.
The self-immolations were the first reported in the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Nearly all the 35 previous self-immolations by Tibetans pushing for an end to Beijing's rule and the return of the Dalai Lama have been in Tibetan-populated regions of western China.
Cameras had already been installed in the Jokhang temple and surrounding areas as part of security measures following anti-government riots in Lhasa four years ago.
"Those who were caught in the camera on the day of self immolations were detained and called in to the police office for interrogations. Many Tibetans who owned cart shops in front of Jokhang were also detained and interrogated on the self-immolations,” the caller from Lhasa said.
Crackdown on monasteries
Monasteries in Lhasa were also not spared in the security crackdown.
“On Sunday when the self-immolations took place, security forces were immediately dispatched to Sera, Ganden, and Drepung monasteries. The residents in downtown Lhasa could not reach these monasteries and the phone lines were cut,” the caller said.
The family members of Dorjee Tseten, who died in the self-immolation, were making preparations to conduct prayers for him at his home in Gansu province.
“The monks of Labrang monastery in Sangchu county (Xiahe, in Chinese) and other monasteries in the area are also conducting prayers for the self immolators,” according to Sonam, a monk in South India and native of Labrang.
Sonam gave an account of the self-immolations based on contacts in the region, saying the two men had checked in at Lhasa's Taksham Hotel, where they made preparations for the burnings.
"They ran from the hotel, one followed by the other, shouting slogans and setting their bodies on fire," he said.
"The first one reached a huge post in front of Jokhang engulfed in huge flames and the second person took about 15 steps and then fell to the ground," Sonam said.
Both of them were surrounded by security forces in the area who used a firemen's hose to put out the flames, sources said.
One source in Lhasa said security was very tight in the tourist area around the Jokhang Temple and nearby Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama, following the self-immolations.
Self-immolation protests, which intensified over the last year, have also sparked demonstrations in Tibetan-populated Chinese provinces criticizing Chinese policies, which Tibetans say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights, and calling for greater freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has blamed Beijing's "totalitarian" and "unrealistic" policies for the wave of self-immolations, saying the time has come for the Chinese authorities to take a serious approach to resolving the Tibetan problem.
Chinese authorities however have labeled the self-immolators as terrorists, outcasts, criminals, and mentally ill people, and have blamed the Dalai Lama for encouraging the burnings.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.