Five Tibetans confirmed killed after police open fire on protesters

Death toll climbs, according to rights groups, but information still tightly policed in restive Tibetan-majority area of Garze

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 August, 2014, 9:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 August, 2014, 9:48am


Five Tibetans died in China after police opened fire on unarmed protesters, a rights group said on Wednesday, the latest report of unrest linked to ethnic minority rights.

Police last week opened fire on locals in Garze, a Tibetan-majority area of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, rights groups and US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) said, citing local sources.

Three people aged from 18 to 60 are now confirmed dead from injuries inflicted during the shootings, British-based group Free Tibet said in a statement, without specifying how the other two are believed to have died.

The US-based International Campaign for Tibet earlier said that one of the protesters had committed suicide in custody.

China’s ethnic minority regions in Tibet and far-western Xinjiang, home to the mainly Muslim Uygurs, have been regularly hit by unrest in recent years.

Rights groups blame the clashes on cultural and religious repression – claims that the Chinese government denies.

The protests in Garze were sparked by the arrest of a local leader, reports said.

The International Campaign for Tibet said police had fired “anti-riot projectiles”.

Free Tibet said several shooting victims were denied medical treatment.

“This shooting and the subsequent treatment of detainees exposes the reality of China’s so-called ‘rule of law’ in Tibet,” the group added.

China heavily restricts local and foreign media from reporting in minority areas, making it very difficult to independently verify such reports of unrest.

In recent years Tibetans have turned to self-immolation to protest against Beijing’s rule.

At least 120 Tibetans in China have set themselves alight since 2009, according to tallies kept by Free Tibet and RFA.

Garze, known in Chinese as Ganzi prefecture, has in the past been a flashpoint for protests and was the site of a self-immolation by a nun in March, Free Tibet and RFA reported.

Beijing says it has brought economic development to poverty-stricken Tibetan areas, while claiming to grant broad religious freedoms.

Ganzi, also known as Garze in Tibetan, appeared to be seeing more unrest, said Barry Sautman, a social science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who studies ethnic minorities on the mainland.

However, the wave of protesters in Tibetan areas setting themselves on fire appeared to be diminishing, he said.

"It probably means that Garze continues to be an area where there's the most likelihood of confrontation between the authorities and local people," Sautman said.

"In the Tibet autonomous region, there's nowhere near the level of manifested discontent as there is in Garze."

Rights activists say Beijing suppresses religious freedom and culture in Tibet.

Beijing rejects the allegations, saying its rule ended serfdom and brought development to a backward, poverty-stricken region.

More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest against Beijing's rule since 2009, mostly in the heavily Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.

With additional reports from Associated Press