A young Tibetan monk from a monastery under restriction by Chinese security forces in southwestern Sichuan province set himself alight on Monday, the third such protest in a week.
The self-immolation came as protests flared at the weekend in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the same province after a photo of the Dalai Lama and a huge Tibetan flag were removed from a building and thrown in the street.
The monk, identified as Kalsang Wangchuk, 17 or 18 years old and from Kirti Monastery in the mountainous Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, set fire to himself near the vegetable market in Ngaba town, exile Tibetan sources said, citing contacts in the area.
"He was carrying a photograph of the Dalai Lama and shouted slogans, though bystanders could not hear these clearly," said Tenpa Dhargye, a former political prisoner now living in India.
Kanyag Tsering, a monk at the Kirti branch monastery in exile in India, added that police and firefighters came quickly to extinguish the flames.
"After they had put out the flames, they beat [Kalsang Wangchuk] badly with whatever they were holding in their hands," Tsering said.
"Many Tibetans standing nearby witnessed this and began to protest, but armed police arrived and pointed weapons at the crowd to intimidate them, and the people dispersed."
Tsering identified Kalsang Wangchuk as belonging to the Soruma clan of Choejema township. His father's name is Tsurdri, and his mother's name is Demchog, Tsering said.
Kalsang Wangchuk's upper body was seen to be badly burned before he was taken away, Tenpa Dhargye said.
Several days before, leaflets had appeared in the area saying that other Tibetans are also ready to sacrifice their lives if the local situation does not improve, Kanyag Tsering said.
Ngaba town is now under strict police control and curfew, with no one allowed to enter or leave the town, he said.
In an earlier protest, two young monks, Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchog, aged between 18-19 years old and also from Kirti monastery, self-immolated on Sept. 26.
Lobsang Kalsang is the brother of Phuntsog, a 21-year-old monk also from Kirti monastery who died after setting himself on fire in March.
The monks waved the banned Tibetan flag and called for religious freedom and shouted “Long live the Dalai Lama” before they set fire to themselves.
In August, another monk, identified as Tsewang Norbu, 29, from Tawu county’s Nyitso monastery in Sichuan province’s Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture, set himself on fire and died in protest at Beijing’s rule in Tibetan-populated regions.
Speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity, a Kirti monk described the "suffocating restrictions" under which he and other monks at Kirti are forced to live.
"We cannot communicate with others, and have to get permission from the police to enter and leave the monastery," he said.
In addition to the self-immolation protests, other Kirti monks have died in unpublicized suicides, he added, noting that he knew of two such cases himself.
"A monk named Jinpa, the brother of my classmate, killed himself with a knife. And a teacher named Jampel Gyatso died in a state of stress and frustration."
Similar incidents may have taken place in other monasteries in other regions of Tibet, he said.Rising Tensions
The weekend protest and the self-immolation Monday heightened tensions which looked set to continue in Tibetan regions of China as the ruling Chinese Communist Party marked its 62nd anniversary in power.
Saturday's protests by more than 200 Tibetans flared in the Kardze prefecture's Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county after a photo of the Dalai Lama and a huge Tibetan flag were removed from a building and thrown in the street, eyewitnesses said.
The protesters called for the return of the Dalai Lama from exile and freedom for Tibet.
Calls to the Serthar county government religious affairs bureau went unanswered during office hours on Monday. China is currently in its "Golden Week" of holidays following National Day celebrations on Saturday.
However, a "religious instruction" official who answered the phone at the county state security police in Serthar denied any protest had taken place.
"No, there was no protest," he said. "Who told you this?"
"I don't know about these things," he said, before hanging up.
Tenzin Tsundue, a high-profile campaigner against China's policies in Tibet, said Sichuan's Tibetan communities had lived through a series of military interventions in recent months.
"These protests were an expression of resistance against military oppression from the Chinese authorities in that district," he said.Monastery siege
The protests came amid a continuing siege of the Kirti Monastery by Chinese authorities launched after monk Phuntsog's self-immolation death.
Chinese security forces have also taken away more than 300 of the monastery's monks and detained them.
Kardze has also been the scene of repeated Tibetan protests, both by individuals and by small groups, despite the threat of detentions and violent assaults against protesters by Chinese police.
Meanwhile, police in Lhasa had stepped up controls over the city's guesthouses and hotels over the holiday period, local business owners said.
"They are a lot more strict at the moment because of the National Day holiday," said an employee who answered the phone at a family-run guesthouse in Lhasa on Monday.
"Everyone who stays has to register with an ID card ... They might even come and do a spot check at night."
A second guesthouse owner said his business had been closed down by police recently.
"Yes, it was [the police]," the owner said. "We are closed now."Politics
Professor Xia Ming, a political science teacher at the College of Staten Island in New York, said there is no sign the tension between Tibetans and the Communist Party authorities will ease.
"The Chinese government is clearly using politics to control the entire process of transmission and reincarnation," Xia said. "This is a very painful conflict, and it's a very fundamental one."
Xia said the root of the problem lie with the government's ideological espousal of atheism.
"Based on the Chinese government's current policies, the two sides are going to continue to clash," he said.
He said China's attitudes in Tibet in fact extend to the entire population.
"They are stuck at the material level, with the satisfaction of bodily needs for existence," he said.
"But we must pursue spiritual and ideological meaning and value if we are to be different from animals."Reported by Chakmo Tso and Rigdhen Dolma for RFA’s Tibetan service and by Yang Jiadai and Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translations by Rigdhen Dolma and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Richard Finney.