A Tibetan man set himself on fire in the Chinese province of Sichuan on Sunday to protest Beijing’s continued rule of his homeland, according to local media reports.
According to sources who spoke with Radio Free Asia, the man set himself on fire in the town of Ngaba while shouting slogans calling for freedom in Tibet. It is not currently clear whether the man, reported to be in his mid 20s, is still alive.
“A Tibetan youth self-immolated on December 8 in the afternoon in Ngaba county, and it is true that it happened, but after the incident, any discussion of this is very inconvenient,” the source said.
“It has become an emergency issue and the details of the incident cannot be discussed at the moment. Everyone is aware of this self-immolation case in Ngaba, but no one has received a detailed account of the situation.”
Another source told the outlet that Chinese authorities have tried to prevent the news from spreading and have therefore “started to monitor any online communication between Ngaba and the world.” As such, Tibetans living in Ngaba “requested their friends and relatives abroad sever any communication contacts with them for the moment.”
The Tibet Post reported that Chinese authorities have placed the area on lockdown, presumably to prevent any further protests or unrest emerging as a result.
“There has been an immediate lockdown in the area, with internet communications blocked, according to the same sources. Chinese police, government and religious affairs bureau officials in the region either said they were unaware of the situation or did not answer their phone,” they wrote.
Drugkho’s protest is now the third self-immolation to take place in Tibet this year and the 155th since the wave of violent demonstrations and civil unrest against Chinese rule of the area broke out in 2008.
Tibet is one of the many regions where Chinese officials are trying to exert greater control, mainly through attacks on their way of life and attempts to undermine their distinct culture and religious institutions. The effort forms part of Beijing’s attempt to unify both all autonomous regions that they consider part of China, a list that also includes Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.
In 2016, officials admitted that fighting the influence of the Dalai Lama was one of the government’s “highest priorities,” describing him as a “violent extremist” and “Islamic State sympathizer.” More recently, they banned all schoolchildren from practicing religious activities during the summer holidays in a bid to “separate education from religious influences,” even forcing them to sign an agreement promising not to do so.
In April, Chinese authorities published a white paper on religious freedom insisting that all “religions in China must be Chinese” and that all the country’s religious leaders must “practice core socialist values, carry forward the fine traditions of the Chinese nation, and actively explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China.”
Last year, a report by the U.S. State Department concluded that China’s religious regulations were intended primarily to “annihilate underground [religious] communities” and “suffocate official [religious] communities” in a bid to impose their socialist ideology.