Report: Tibetan nun sets herself on fire

/ Source: msnbc.com news services

A Tibetan nun calling for greater religious freedom set herself on fire in western China, the latest in a series of self-immolations among the region's Buddhist clergy, an advocacy group said Tuesday.

In a separate incident, security forces shot two Tibetans during a protest outside a police station, London-based Free Tibet reported.

The two incidents could not immediately be independently confirmed Tuesday, although tensions have been high across the region since widespread anti-government protests in 2008. Communist government officials gave no comment when contacted.

Slogans
Free Tibet said the nun, 20-year-old Tenzin Wangmo, died after setting herself on fire Monday outside Dechen Chokorling nunnery in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture where a number of other self-immolations have taken place this year. The group said she chanted slogans as she set herself alight calling for greater religious freedom and the return of Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.

This photo taken on October 17, 2011 shows Chinese paramilitary police in the streets of Aba in China's Sichuan province. A Tibetan nun died after setting herself on fire in southwest China's town of Aba, the first woman known to have self-immolated in the region, a rights group said on October 18, as protests against perceived repression escalate. TOPSHOTS CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)AFP

Her death comes seven months after a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Phuntsog, 21, from the restive Kirti monastery, burned himself to death. As a result, security forces detained about 300 monks for a month.

Rights groups say the unrest could lead to a crackdown in Aba, which erupted in violence in March 2008 when Buddhist monks and other Tibetans loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.

Nine ethnic Tibetans, eight of them from Aba prefecture, have burned themselves since March to protest against religious controls by the Chinese government, which labels the Dalai Lama a violent separatist. The Dalai Lama denies the charges.

See images of the life of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14 Dalai Lama and exiled spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists.

The two men shot Sunday in Sichuan's Garze prefecture, identified as Dawa and Druklo, were taken away by area residents and their conditions were unknown, Free Tibet said. Many Tibetans use just one name.

There is no tradition of self-immolation as a form of protest in Tibetan society. The acts are seen as an attempt to draw attention to repression of Tibetan Buddhism.

Most ignited the flames while calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Aged in their late teens and twenties, at least five died of their injuries, while the condition of the other four is not known.

"The acts of self-immolation are not taking place in isolation, protests have been reported in the surrounding region and calls for wider protests are growing," Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden was quoted as saying in a statement.

China's Foreign Ministry last week accused the Dalai Lama's followers of encouraging the self-immolations by not denouncing them.

'Immoral'
Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin on Tuesday said he was still seeking information on the latest incident, but said the government would "handle this appropriately."

"We believe the encouragement of such behavior at the cost of human life is immoral," Liu said.

The self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile has described the self-immolations as tragic acts and called for the international community to urge Beijing to open a dialogue on its policies in Tibet and traditionally Tibetan regions of western China. A daylong prayer service for the self-immolators and jailed Tibetan political prisoners is planned for Wednesday at the Dalai Lama's headquarters in the Indian town of Dharmsala.

Communist Party and government spokesmen in Aba said they knew nothing about the reported incident and refused to give their names or titles because they weren't authorized to speak with foreign media.

A party spokesman in Garze's Seda county also said he had no knowledge of the shootings and refused to comment further.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since Communist troops marched in 1950.

But it rejects the criticism of rights groups and exiled Tibetans, saying its rule has bought much needed development to a poor and backward region.