A security crackdown in Tibetan-inhabited areas is fuelling self-immolations in protest at the central government's rule that have claimed dozens of lives, an advocacy group said yesterday.
Three self-immolations have occurred since Thursday, according to the International Campaign for Tibet - two in the northwestern province of Qinghai and one in neighbouring Gansu .
"The Tibetans who are self-immolating, now in more rapid succession, have clearly not been dissuaded by the security build-up or other means of official intimidation," ICT head Mary Beth Markey said.
"Unless and until there is some initiative that can break through the cycle of repression and protest, I think we all acknowledge that more Tibetans will be prepared to take the agonising action of self-immolation."
At least 81 Tibetans have set themselves alight in Tibetan-inhabited regions of China since 2009, with most occurring in the last year and the majority ending in death, according to the group.
Many Tibetans in China accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country's majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.
The government 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 Tibetan government-in-exile, based in the hill town of Dharamshala in northern India, has expressed "deep concern over the alarming escalation in self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet".
Dharamshala has been the headquarters of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, since he fled from his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The exiled government said five self-immolations occurred during the past week, while 19 Tibetans have set themselves alight this month alone.
The central government has reacted to the spate of self-immolations by sending in troops, stepping up the policing of monasteries, and cutting off communications and internet access in areas where most of the suicide protests are occurring, the pressure group said.
"Officials in the Rebkong area [of Qinghai] have warned Tibetans not to go to the homes of those who have self-immolated to express condolences," it said.
"They also said that if monks go to pray for self-immolators, monasteries will be closed down and that the families of self-immolators will be punished."