BEIJING — A Tibetan man died after he and another man set themselves on fire in southwestern China, state media said Sunday, taking the total number of similar acts to 14 in the restive region in less than a year.
The incidents happened Friday near the Kirti monastery in Sichuan province’s Aba county — the scene of a sporadic bouts of unrest since a young monk named Phuntsog self-immolated last March — the official Xinhua news agency said.
Rights groups say nine monks and two nuns have previously set themselves on fire over the past year in Sichuan to protest against the perceived religious repression of Tibetan Buddhists, and that at least seven have died.
Another former monk self-immolated in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The latest violent acts involved two former monks at Kirti, Xinhua said. An 18-year-old died in a hotel room after setting himself on fire while another man aged 22 was being treated in hospital after setting himself ablaze.
The London-based Free Tibet campaign group, citing eyewitness accounts, said the 22-year-old had called for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, as he set himself on fire.
The flames were extinguished and he was taken away to an undisclosed location, they said.
A woman at the local hospital declined to comment on the condition of the survivor when contacted by AFP on Sunday. Calls to the county government and police also went unanswered.
A spokesman for the local government told Xinhua that the man in hospital had “confessed” that the two men “conspired” to set themselves on fire.
An investigation also found that the men had been involved in a number of thefts, including the “case of the Kirti monastery Buddha statue burglary”, Xinhua said.
Stephanie Brigden, head of Free Tibet, said it was a “damning indictment” on foreign governments that 14 people had set themselves on fire and “the international community has failed to respond.”
“We can only expect that such acts of protest will continue for as long as world leaders turn a blind eye to the desperate situation in Tibet,” she said in a statement.
The Dalai Lama has condemned self-immolations, which many Buddhists believe are contrary to their faith, but said recently Tibetans faced “cultural genocide” under hardline Chinese rule that he blamed for the protests.
Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of enacting religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country’s majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.
But China rejects this, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and pointing to huge ongoing investment, which it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living.