A Tibetan man has died after setting himself on fire in protest at China’s rule of the Himalayan region, a rights group and overseas media said, relaying the first self-immolation of this year.
The man burned himself to death at about 1pm (0500 GMT) on Saturday, London-based pressure group Free Tibet and US-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said, in what is thought to be the first self-immolation since December.
The incident happened in Xiahe, a county in western China’s Gansu province known as Sangchu in Tibetan.
The body of the man, who was identified with the single name Tsebe, or Tseba, was carried back to his home village about four kilometres away following a protest, Free Tibet said.
The rights group said he was in his early 20s, while RFA cited its sources as saying he was 19.
The man called out for the Dalai Lama to be allowed to return to Tibet, RFA said.
RFA says 96 ethnic Tibetans, many of them monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in China since February 2009 to protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibet.
The number of burnings peaked in November in the run-up to the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, at which Xi Jinping was named the party’s new general secretary in a once-in-a-decade power handover.
Before Saturday’s immolation, the most recent protest was on December 9 when a 16-year-old girl died after setting herself alight in China’s northwestern province of Qinghai, state media said.
Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said the latest immolation demonstrates “Tibetan rejection of the Chinese occupation is as strong as ever”.
“The new Chinese leadership and the international community cannot allow demands for freedom to continue to go unheeded. This year must be the year where positive change comes to Tibet,” she added.
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.
China rejects this, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom. Beijing points to huge ongoing investment it says has brought modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising and has since based himself in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala.
Calls to police and local government officials in Xiahe went unanswered on Sunday.