News reports from western China say a Buddhist monk died Monday after setting himself on fire in an apparent protest against an ongoing Chinese crackdown on Tibetan monks.
The death, confirmed by China's official Xinhua news agency, occurred in an ethnic Tibetan area of Sichuan province known as Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
The London-based Free Tibet Network identified the monk as a 29-year-old, and said he doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze while shouting “long live the Dalai Lama.” China bans public veneration of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, whom Beijing accuses of seeking Tibetan independence.
The death comes just days after a China-designated Buddhist lama toured the region while under heavy Chinese police protection. The Panchen Lama is the second ranking spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism, but many Tibetans oppose Beijing's designee because he was installed by the government rather than chosen by the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since a 1959 failed uprising against Chinese rule, originally selected another young man (Gendun Choekyi Nyima) to become the 11th Panchen Lama. But the youth was arrested by Chinese police in 1995 at age 6 and has not been heard from since.
The remote region where Monday's death occurred and other Tibetan parts of Sichuan have seen repeated protests in recent years against what anti-China critics see as Beijing's efforts to suppress Tibetan culture and traditions.
In April, Chinese authorities seized more than 300 protesting monks from a monastery elsewhere in Sichuan and weeks later admitted subjecting them to “legal education” at undisclosed locations.
The United Nations Working group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances protested the detentions, accusing Beijing of involvement in “enforced disappearances.” But Beijing brushed off the U.N. protest, and instead urged critics to adopt a “fair perspective” on government efforts in the region.