Chinese police today shot a burning Tibetan monk before they put him out, the Free Tibet campaign said.
The monk had set himself on fire in a protest over Tibetan new year rituals in Aba county, Sichuan province, the group said. The area saw some of the worst unrest during Tibetan protests last March.
Free Tibet said witnesses saw Tabe, a monk aged in his 20s, walking from Kirti monastery into town this afternoon. He was carrying a hand-drawn Tibetan flag with a picture of the Dalai Lama at its centre.
“He doused himself in petrol. The armed police could not get near him because he was burning,” said Matt Whitticase, a campaign spokesman. “Witnesses heard three gunshots fired. The monk fell to the ground and the police managed to put the flames out. He was immediately put into a van and taken to an undisclosed location. His present condition is unknown.”
The claims could not be confirmed independently, but Whitticase said the group had indirect accounts from three witnesses. Tibetans have been heavily punished for passing details of incidents to outsiders.
Free Tibet said up to 800 monks had reportedly gone to Tabe’s home village of Trinkin to say prayers, believing him to be dead.
The group said Tabe’s protest followed an attempt by almost 1,000 monks at Kirte to use a prayer hall to observe the Monlam festival – part of Tibetan new year – despite being told not to do so. They were told to return to their rooms.
The authorities have been angered by some Tibetans deciding to boycott new year celebrations other than religious rituals as a mark of protest against Chinese rule.
Last year, Tibetan exile groups said police shot dead several protestors in Aba county. The campaigners released graphic photographs of bodies and the names of five alleged victims.
Chinese state media subsequently said that officers shot and wounded “rioters” in self-defence.
More than 100 monks from the Lutsang monastery in Qinghai province held a candlelit vigil and protest march on Wednesday, the US government-funded Radio Free Asia reported today.