BEIJING — Chinese officials denied reports that three ethnic Tibetans lit themselves on fire in protest against the government Friday, according to a story Monday in a state-controlled newspaper.
The Global Times, a tabloid considered to have nationalist leanings, quoted a Chinese Communist Party county committee secretary and a representative of a provincial-level Communist Party publicity department as saying there was no news of self-immolations occurring Friday in Sichuan province.
Wang Yongkang, the committee secretary for Seda County, known in Tibetan as Serthar County, said that while there had been rumors that ethnic Tibetans planned to commit self-immolations, “it has not happened,” according to the brief item in the Global Times.
U.S-funded Radio Free Asia and a London-based advocacy group, Free Tibet, said over the weekend that one Tibetan had died and two others were wounded after setting themselves aflame Friday at a remote village in Seda.
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Stephanie Brigden, the director of Free Tibet, said in an email Monday that her organization stood by its report.
“We are confident of the accuracy of the information,” Brigden said. “It is not unusual for either the Chinese state through state media or officials to deny information."
If the fiery protests did occur Friday, they'd put the total since last March at 19 people who have self-immolated — 13 of whom are reported to have died, according to rights groups. The self-immolations, mostly by current or former Tibetan Buddhist clergy, are said to be in defiance of Beijing’s policies toward Tibetan religion and culture.
In its release on the incident, Free Tibet named the two survivors and their approximate ages but said that, “the identity of the Tibetan who died is unknown as are the details surrounding the self-immolations.”
In the past, more details have followed initial news of self-immolations as information trickles out of Tibetan areas of Sichuan. Internet service in those towns and villages often is cut and telephone calls are thought to be heavily monitored. Police checkpoints have sought to block foreign news media from reporting in the region.
The Chinese government routinely blames unrest in Tibetan areas on separatist forces led by the Dalai Lama. Tibetan advocacy groups say the problems can be traced to China’s authoritarian governance.
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