The Tibetan self-immolation toll has risen to 113 after it was confirmed that a monk and his niece had burned themselves in protest against Chinese rule and not due to a home accident as reported earlier, according to the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Tulku Athup and niece Atse self-immolated at his Dzogchen monastery in Sichuan Province on April 6 last year.
But fearing closure of the monastery, officials at the institution told Chinese police that they had died due to an "accidental fire," the Central Tibetan Administration, the official name of the India-based exile government, said on its website on Wednesday.
The police then withdrew from the monastery, but since then, Chinese authorities have imposed severe restrictions across the region, the CTA said.
A few days before the self-immolation, Tulku Athup, who was also known as Thubten Nyandag Rinpoche, said he would light butter lamps for those who had self-immolated "for the cause of Tibet" and asked his students to engage in meritorious activities such as the saving of animal lives.
On the day of his burning protest, he told his family by phone: “Today I feel at ease and [am] ending my life by offering butter lamps for all those Tibetans who have set themselves on fire for the cause of Tibet," according to the CTA.
"Immediately after making the call, he and his niece set themselves on fire," CTA said.
Tulku Athup was 47 years old and Atse 25 when they died.
Kate Saunders, London-based spokesperson for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), said that though Tulku Athup and Atse are already referenced in an ICT database of self-immolators, they were never listed in the advocacy group's final count.
"Shortly, we may include them in our total of Tibetans who have self-immolated in China," Saunders said.
Tulku Athup had joined the Lhakang Dragkhar monastery in Dege county in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture at a young age and later studied at the Drepung monastery in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and at Kirti monastery in Ngaba (Aba).
Before confirmation of the deaths as twin self-immolations, a total of 111 burning protests challenging Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas and calling for the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama had been reported.
Ninety-one protesters are known to have died.
The desperate protests are raging on despite tighter restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities.
The latest self-immolation protest was reported on Sunday when a Tibetan mother of four burned herself to death on in Sichuan province's Ngaba prefecture.
Kalkyi, 30, torched herself near a monastery in Dzamthang (Rangtang) county "to highlight the Chinese policy of violent rule in Tibet and Tibetan populated areas," a source inside Tibet had told RFA's Tibetan Service.
Chinese authorities have recently tightened controls in Tibetan-populated areas to check the self-immolation protests, arresting and jailing more than a dozen Tibetans who they accused of being linked to the burnings. Some were jailed up to 15 years.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.